Reflections on a Silent Retreat

By Sarah Roberts, Assistant Director of Numinus

Insight Meditation Society

Last week, I drove to Barre, Massachusetts with Numinus Clinic director Joe Flanders and Numinus Clinic teacher Julien Lacaille to attend a six-day silent meditation retreat at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS). Founded in the 1970s by American Buddhist teachers Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield, and Joseph Goldstein, IMS is one of the oldest meditation retreat centres in the West. The centre is housed in a beautiful old mansion, and runs regular retreats dedicated to the cultivation of vipassana (insight) and metta (lovingkindness). Our retreat was run by Kittisaro and Thanissara, Buddhist teachers who live and teach primarily in the US and in South Africa.

Orientation

On Monday evening, we gathered with one hundred retreatants from all over the United States and Canada for our orientation session. We were given a tour of the centre, and each retreatant was assigned a small dorm room (single bed, sink and mirror, wardrobe and chair) and a daily job that would contribute to the functioning of the centre. I was assigned to a team of after-lunch pot-washers; fellow retreatants were assigned various gardening, housekeeping, and food preparation jobs.

Noble Silence

Following the orientation session, Thanissara and Kittisaro rang a bell and Noble Silence was officially in session. Noble Silence simply refers to a commitment to remain silent for a certain extended period; the silence is designed to still our mouths and therefore our minds; making it easier to sit calmly; observe the workings of our minds and bodies; and cultivate perception, clarity, and wisdom.

Retreat Schedule

Starting Tuesday morning, the format of the retreat was as follows: at 5am, a bell-ringer walked through the halls of the dorms, ringing a bell to wake us and call us to gather in the meditation hall at 5:10 for chanting and sitting meditation. I usually took the opportunity to sit outside and enjoy the lightening sky instead, joining the group for the next meditation period at 6am. At 6:30, we ate breakfast. At 8:15am, we reconvened in the meditation hall for alternating periods of sitting meditation and walking meditation until lunch at noon. The afternoon schedule was very similar: alternating periods of sitting and walking meditation, until a light dinner (soup with crackers or bread) at 5:30pm. All meals were vegetarian, and each period of sitting, walking, or eating was indicated by bell-ringing.  At any time, retreatants could choose to meditate in the meditation hall, in the dorm rooms, in alternate designated meditation areas, or outside; we were also free at any time to nap, take a walk, have a cup of tea, or otherwise rest or rejuvenate.

Dharma Talks

Every evening, Thanissara or Kittisaro gave a “dharma talk.” The word dharma refers to the underlying order of nature and human life, and to behaviour considered to be in accord with that order. The word is also often used to refer to the entirety of the teachings of the Buddha, and a “dharma talk” simply means a talk on Buddhism by a Buddhist teacher. Kittisaro and Thanissara’s dharma talks were excellent. Some referred to Buddhist teachings that were not familiar to me, but the underlying themes of compassion, acceptance, and non-striving were very familiar from my experience as an MBSR participant and teacher. The teachers were warm, engaging, and funny. In particular, Kittisaro’s description of his early life as an incorrigible striver (Rhodes’ Scholar, wrestling champion, medical student) made us laugh.

Buddhism and MBSR

For me, one of the pleasures of the retreat was hearing Thanissara and Kittisaro teach many of the concepts we teach in our mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program, but from their unique perspective. Mindfulness is a Buddhist concept only quite recently popularized and secularized in the West as a tool for physical and emotional health and well-being. Although Western mindfulness teachers are educated in Buddhist principles and cognizant of the roots of mindfulness, the MBSR curriculum is specifically designed to be secular, and does not explicitly refer to Buddhist teachings.  Although the retreat teachers only used the word mindfulness a handful of times during the week, the themes of awareness via body sensations, allowing experience to be as it is, turning toward rather than away from pain, and cultivating compassion for personal and others’ suffering were unmistakable. Furthermore, many of the dharma talks touched upon the seven foundational attitudes to mindfulness practice (acceptance, non-judgment, non-striving, beginner’s mind, patience, trust, and letting go) identified by MBSR founder Jon Kabat-Zinn, and explicitly taught in MBSR.

Retreat Life

Being on retreat is in some ways demanding (waking up at 5am, meditating for extending periods) and in some ways relaxing (no phones, internet, email, shopping, cooking, or demands on your time), but it’s above all interesting. Noticing what your mind does when the usual demands are absent is like sitting behind the window of a laboratory. I became extremely sensitive to the operations of my mind, immediately noticing each time a stray thought caused a twinge of anxiety or stab of fear; and acutely aware of the precise moment I became itchy, hungry, or otherwise physically uncomfortable. I had the space and time to observe my mental habits, noticing each time my mind latched onto one of its usual topics of rumination, or reacted to some nonverbal behaviour from a fellow retreatant. In some instances, the heightened awareness allowed me to behave more skillfully; in other instances, I observed myself repeating unhelpful patterns.

Post-Retreat Life

Now the retreat is over. I’m back in Montreal, back at work, and meeting with the usual demands and pleasures of my regular life. What’s different? First, I have retreat jet lag, which means that I’m going to bed and waking up about two hours earlier than usual. Second, I regularly stop and ask myself “How is it now?” This is a phrase Kittisaro and Thanissara encouraged us to use to check in with ourselves. Third, I’ve been speaking more slowly and less often, and listening more, realizing that everything that crosses my mind doesn’t need to be spoken out loud. Fourth, I’ve noticed that I’m more sensitive than usual to my own and others’ emotions, to the sounds in my environment and to the loveliness of nature.

I hope all of these changes last, but I’m prepared for them to fade or fluctuate. After all, if there’s any one lesson to take from Buddhist teachings, it’s the impermanence of all things.

Guided Meditation: Relating Mindfully to COVID-19 Stress

 

We are currently in moment in history of collective uncertainty. And learning how to be in wise relationship to uncertainty is more important now than ever. Most of us are invited to stay put at home and may notice we have a lot more time on our hands. This can lead to having more time to worry and be anxious. But it can also be used as an opportunity to retreat, slow down, and learn how to best be with ourselves when experiencing difficulties like fear, anxiety or grief. Learning to relate to these states wisely can help us see things more clearly, have a broader view, take more effective actions, and to be our best selves even when things are difficult.

Four Mindfulness Rituals for More Effective Meetings

Here is why and how our meetings went from relatively inefficient to highly effective and enjoyable.

First, we came to understand how little we knew about our teammates’ backgrounds, our varying daily work routines, and the mindset each of us were bringing to the table at a meeting.

We realized that for meetings to be most effective, we need an effective container.

Inspired by our very own essence as a company that brings mindfulness to individuals and the workplace, we decided to set up a number of mindfulness-based rituals that would help ensure productive and enjoyable meetings.

“How could we turn this around to enable everyone to align quickly and smoothly on
important decisions?”

 

We use four rituals that don’t take us more than five minutes to complete at the start of each meeting.

These meeting rituals allow us to reset and function as a team rather than start discussions in reactive mode. Mindfulness rituals not only help us reconnect to ourselves, they also create a space where our team can be present, align and listen to each other while building the kind of team spirit that helps us achieve our goals and relate to each other with kindness.

Here are the meeting rituals we put in place for our team:

Ritual #1 – Phones on charge so we can recharge

Right after saying hi to everyone, the first thing we do when we arrive at a team meeting is place our phones on a designated table away from the meeting table (this could be a good time to charge the phone if needed).

Even though someone may decide to “cheat” by checking messages on their laptop or smart watch, not having the phone there reminds each of us that we are accountable for being fully present for the entire meeting.

Not having the phone at hand enhances our physical connection and ability to remain present.

Ritual #2 – Two minutes seated in silence

We turn on a timer for two minutes and all sit in silence together. Some people take the opportunity to meditate, while others simply rest.

For those two minutes, we as a team share silence and a time-out. This gives us the space to reset and feel where everyone is at, by being together in silence.

Of course, two minutes is not enough to learn how to meditate, but you can definitely meditate for two minutes by focusing your attention on a single object! Starting small can be helpful.

Ritual #3 – Checking in

We then go once around the table to allow each person an open space to share what they feel in the moment. It could be just one word, or several sentences during which the others listen attentively with a non-judgmental attitude.

Checking in with each participant lays a human foundation for the rest of the meeting. People may have expressed some good news, or said that they felt overwhelmed, or mentioned that they were having issues at home. This helps us understand each other better as a team, knowing where each person is at. The quality of our interactions is greater because of this understanding.

Ritual #4 – Time, objectives and takeaways

Once we have completed the checking-in ritual, the person who called the meeting sets the objectives and lets us know where we expect to land at the end of the meeting. As a general rule, we make sure to start and end meetings on time and we close meetings by thanking everyone for their time and input. In that way, we make sure everyone’s presence is valued and everyone’s time is respected.

These rituals only take us a few minutes to complete and integrating them to our meeting routine has really been a game changer for our efficiency and enjoyment working together.

“Why not try whichever of these rituals make sense for your
team? Let us know how it goes!”

Episode 14: True Happiness with Buddhist Monk Matthieu Ricard

 

“If we can cultivate compassion, that’s the very best thing we can do both for

ourselves and for others.”

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe welcomes Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist monk, writer, translator, humanitarian, and photographer.

Matthieu was born in France in 1946, to French philosopher Jean-François Revel and artist Yahne Le Toumelin. He trained as a scientist and got a Ph.D. in molecular genetics in 1972, but moved to Nepal to become a Buddhist monk, rather than pursue an academic career. He has been in Nepal ever since.

Matthieu’s unusual journey and training give him a truly unique perspective on the intersection between contemplative traditions and contemporary science. He shares these insights in his long-standing involvement with the Mind and Life Institute, translation of ancient Buddhist texts, public speaking, and writing best-selling books, including Happinessthe Art of Meditation, and In Search of Wisdom. He is also the Dalai Lama’s French interpreter and close friend. In 2000, after exhibiting never-before-seen brain activation while meditating in a brain scanner, he was playfully nicknamed “the happiest man in the world.”

Matthieu is also highly active as a humanitarian, supporting animal rights and creating Karuna-Shechen, an organization dedicated to “developing and managing programs in primary health care, education, and social services for the under-served populations of India, Nepal, and Tibet.” All of the proceeds of Matthieu’s books, photographs, and events are donated to Karuna Canada, the Canadian chapter of which is based in Montreal.

Matthieu is actually going to be in Montreal this month (Saturday, April 13th), for an event put on by Karuna-Shechen, called Meeting of the Minds: Taking Care of Life. On the panel sits people from all walks of life: Steven Laureys, a neurologist, Maria João Pires, a world renowned pianist, Alexandre Jollien, a philosopher, and a worker who spent 15 years in animal slaughterhouses. Matthieu hopes the event will be “a two fold fulfillment of aspirations of oneself and that of others.”

All proceeds of the event will go to Karuna Shechen projects in Asia.

I’d like to apologize for the quality of the audio for this episode. Unfortunately, this interview came together at the very last minute, and Matthieu’s internet was not working correctly. However, below you’ll find a full transcript of the interview.

In this conversation, Dr. Joe and Matthieu spoke about:

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Caring Mindfulness Versus Instrumental Mindfulness

“He said that opposite to the mindfulness revolution, maybe we’re heading to a

compassion revolution. I think this would be great.”

I’ve been practicing meditation for about 20 years. And I’ve been really blown away by the explosion of mindfulness meditation in Western culture.

You have a much more rich and deep relationship with this practice, so I’m curious to hear what it is like from your perspective to see how meditation has really moved into the mainstream in Western culture?

Well first of all, I think it’s important to put meditation in context.

In Sanskrit, Bhavana, means to cultivate something. And in Tibetan, Gom means to become familiar with something. So you can cultivate focused attention, compassion, benevolence, and inner balance. And you can become familiar with thought process, with the fundamental nature of mind behind the stream of thought.

The Buddhist part is about getting rid of the causes of suffering. And the causes of suffering, some are obvious like hatred and craving and so forth. Some are less obvious like the distortion of reality, for which wisdom is the only remedy. Familiarization is also a familiarization with the correct understanding of reality.

So you see, it’s much more vast than what people usually call meditation. And even vaster than the technical definition of mindfulness.

I suppose there are quite a few definitions of mindfulness but, basically, it’s to pay attention undestructably to the present moment in a non judgmental way and notice whatever happens without losing that mindfulness. We call that attentive presence.

In Buddhism, it is not quite non-judgmental because it’s connected with an evaluation of whether what you notice in the present moment is wholesome or unwholesome, not in a moralistic way, rather whether it brings suffering or freedom from suffering.

So the other aspect of being mindful is what could be the antidote to let’s say hatred and then putting that antidote into action in a proper way. Even that has to be put into the vaster scope of the very rich array of methods to achieve freedom from suffering, which is extremely vast from a philosophical, an analytical, and a practical point of view.

When my dear friend, Jon Kabat-Zinn realized that there was a lot of suffering, especially in the medical world, from patients, from caregivers, he wondered how to use some of techniques he had learned, mostly in Burma and other places, how to use Buddhist practices in a way that could be acceptable 30 years ago in a medical setting. Which was not very open to the idea of bringing in some weird exotic practices.

So the idea of stress being one of the main factors of this suffering and how mindfulness would be able to reduce stress was genius.

And recently, I witnessed Jon reviewing 30 years of studies of the impact of mindfulness on healthcare, and in other fields of life. It was truly moving and amazing.

So this being said, it never pretended to be the essence of Buddhism. I think Jon also clearly says that it is inspired by Buddhism. But it’s not an integral Buddhist practice.

The only problem is with those who say that it is the essence of Buddhism. It’s much too simplistic obviously.

Also, one issue might be when you come out of the medical world and go into the corporate world, you worry that it might be used in an instrumental way to make people more efficient and productive, while remaining less stressed. I don’t think this has materialized as a genuine cause of concern.

Nevertheless, when Jon and his team and later on many others brought mindfulness into the medical context, they were of course there with a compassionate attitude to reduce suffering.

So to make sure that mindfulness is not disembodied from compassion or what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls heartfulness, I believe instead of having two things, mindfulness and heartfulness, we should just think of caring mindfulness. Then you cannot go astray with mindfulness becoming a sort of cold tool to just become more attentive for whatever instrumental purpose, devoid of ethics and compassion.

So meditation is vaster than that, and Buddhism is vaster than meditation.

But there’s nothing wrong with this mindfulness revolution. It has done tremendous good throughout the world.

I think since compassion is such an important thing, my humble suggestion would be to always speak of caring mindfulness.

What do you think the risk is of using mindfulness instrumentally? 

A friend of mine, Sebastien Henry, interviewed a hundred CEOs who decided to incorporate mindfulness at their workplace. It was very interesting because at first they hesitated because they thought maybe mindfulness would make people less motivated, more soft, and then it’s a waste of time.

But what they found is actually something quite different. They found that there were two main advantages, which was not just to make people more efficient. That’s not what happened.

The two advantages were having better judgment because they saw things in a bigger sort of way, with a different perspective. And then the second thing was the improving of human relationships in the enterprise.

So those two things are, of course, much welcome. So far—of course, I’m not a specialist, since I don’t work in the corporate world—I haven’t heard much of anyone saying, ‘look at this company. They just used mindfulness to make them less stressed, while working them like crazy.’

I think since compassion is such an important thing, my humble suggestion would be to always speak of caring mindfulness. Then, at least, you always put compassion and loving kindness at the forefront. And many studies right now put more and more emphasis on the benefits of practicing compassion and loving kindness.

I remember Thupten Jinpa, the chairmain of the Mind and Life Institute, and I were in Singapore presenting the work of Mind and Life, and he said that opposite to the mindfulness revolution, maybe we’re heading to a compassion revolution. I think this would be great.

 

The Science of Mind Training

“A pilot study done on long term meditators showed that it seems that long term

meditators have a structurally and metabolically younger brain.”

So I wanted to talk about the science of mindfulness because of course that’s one of the reasons why mindfulness has grown so much in the West. And you’ve been a really important figure in advancing the science.

I’m curious how do you think science in general is doing. How much progress is it making in understanding the Buddhist wisdom around well being and the reduction of suffering?

I’ve also participated in a lot of studies as collaborator, co-author, guinea pig, everything.

I’m not practicing mindfulness in the technical way it is done in MBSR.

We decided that initially with Francisco Varela, then Richard Davidson, and Antoine Lutz, and later with Tania Singer and Steven Laureys to simplify things because there are so many kinds of meditation. When you think of meditation, you think of mind training.

So you can train your mind in so many ways. It’s like physical training. What are you doing? Football? Or volleyball? Or chess? It’s different.

So we decided that there are 3 types of traditional meditation that could be useful to society and usable in a secular context. One was of course focused attention. This would be the closest to mindfulness. The other one was compassion or altruistic love. And the third one is what we call open presence. Which is roughly defined as a very open vast, vivid state, which is somehow deeper than mindfulness because it’s also resting in the deepest nature of mind.

So those 3 are being extensively studied. They have different signatures in the brain. There’s no doubt that they do change the brain functionally and structurally. So that’s one of the many studies I’ve been involved with those labs.

They are mostly about fundamental research. While mindfulness has been studied a lot in a clinical context to see what sort of good effect it could have on health, which they have. A lot, a lot of studies I think Jon Kabat-Zinn showed 20 years ago that there were 4 or 5 publications every year, and I think now it’s 400. So I’ve been involved in fundamental research on meditation.

And recently, I’ve been involved in a vast development study on aging and whether meditation will slow down the aging process, which a pilot study done on long term meditators showed that definitely it seems long meditators have a structurally and metabolically younger brain.

Sometimes 10 to 15 years younger than the average.

“It’s something that replenishes your strength and courage, while empathetic resonance with suffering will overburden you and overwhelm you, as the suffering of others is repeated.”

I’ve also been involved in a study on the different levels of consciousness of vividness and clarity with Steven Laureys and also with Tania Singer. We did quite a few—I think—groundbreaking studies to distinguish empathy from compassion. And they show that when people speak of compassion fatigue, that’s not the right term. We should speak of empathy fatigue, or some kind of emotional exhaustion that leads to burn out.

But compassion is the opposite. It’s more like an antidote to burnout. And it’s something that replenishes your strength and courage, while empathetic resonance with suffering will overburden you and overwhelm you, as the suffering of others is repeated.

So all of these have been fascinating collaborations. To show also that meditators are not just a guinea pig, but a co-conceiver of the protocols. So they asked me to co-find a paper, although I’m not involved in crunching the data, because we sort of established the protocol together. So they thought it was important to acknowledge that the meditators have an active role in the research.

Between Two Worlds: Consumerism and Environmentalism

“No house, no car, no land, I’m so happy like that. I would dread to have to take care

of all of those crazy things.”

You’ve got this really unique set up where I believe part of the year you live as a monastic in Nepal. And the other part of the 
year, you live in a Western culture in France. 

What is it like to go back and forth between those two contexts? 

Well, well, well, yes and no.

I only spend a few days in Paris. Usually when I’m there, I do a lot media because of the books and all of these things.

But I increasingly spend more time either in Nepal or looking after humanitarian projects, like Karuna Sechen, which actually has our next event in Montreal in April, Journées Émergences. We help 250,000 people every year in India, Nepal, and Tibet. I’m very much involved in that. I started this organization.

And then in France, I’m mostly staying with my 95 year old mother in the countryside, and my teachers are here. I make a little noise when go to Paris because the media always wants to ask me things.

But in fact, I don’t much time immersed in city life and in the sort of modern way of life.

“The main challenge for the 21st century is climate change.”

In the moments where you are exposed to urban life, what jumps out at you the most as different or unusual or even problematic about our lifestyle?

Well, I’m a part of the world. And of course as a former scientist I’ve been doing research about the question of the need for more altruism and cooperation for our time. I’m very much involved with environmental scientists. I’m involved in too many things in fact.

The main, main, main, main challenge for the 21st century is climate change, the degradation of the ecosystem, and the climatic loss of biodiversity and population of living species on Earth. That could jeopardize every other project that has been done over the last two centuries in a vast way.

If you think of altruism as the best solution to those challenges, then you cannot be not be deeply concerned by the fate of future generations and by 8 million other species who are co-citizens on this Earth. So I’m so definitely concerned.

Now whatever I can do is not very much, but at least participating in the debate, writing books, having a little voice here and there. Having gone to weird places like the World Economic Forum or the UN to speak about these things. So whatever I can.

But if I was just on my own, it’s like zero influence. But together with many people from many different fields of life, whether they are environmental scientists or policy makers or economists who put more emphasis on caring economics. All kinds of people who really want to build a better world, despite this incredible challenge that we are facing.

So I’m just part of this community and do my best to contribute even modestly to bring some cultural change. I don’t know where it’ll lead, but we’re trying our best.

To answer your question, clearly, there is a big problem with the society of consumerism. An average US citizen emits 200 times more CO2 than a Zambian. A citizen of Qatar emits 2000 times more CO2 than an Afghani. So there’s a problem there. It’s simply that the rich countries should just stop that over consumption, which they don’t seem ready to do.

They think they can’t be happy having less, but in fact it’s just the opposite. Voluntary simplicity is one of the greatest sources of happiness and freedom. That’s one of the main sort of blindness of modern society. It’s this constant drive for consumerism, for all kinds of things that doesn’t bring happiness.

It’s been shown over and over again. It’s not just a moralistic Buddhist view. Tim Kasser did a 20 year study on the effect of consumerism. There’s a very interesting book called The High Price of Materialism that shows that it simply doesn’t make people happier. They are less happy. They are less healthy. They have less good, genuine friends. They are less concerned by global issues. They are less empathetic.

This kind of drive is not good for anybody. That’s so regrettable. But I don’t know how ready people are to give it up. They think they will be less happy. That they will be deprived of something good, while simplification just brings such a freedom.

No house, no car, no land, I’m so happy like that. I would dread to have to take care of all of those crazy things [laughs].

One of the things that has inspired me about your work is this really interesting possibility that there are actions that we can take like simplicity, cutting down consumerism that are both good for the planet, good for our communities, and ultimately enhancing of our own well being.

How do see those things fitting together?

There are so many ways.

Stop eating meat. It’s so easy. It takes 5 seconds. And this is one of the factors which is one of the easiest things to do to combat climate change. The latest report of the IPCC says that just the factor of increasing meat consumption would alone forbid us from reaching our goal of stopping climate change from reaching two degrees celsius of warming. That simple thing. Industrial farming and cattle raising for meat is the second cause of greenhouse gas emissions. The second one because of the methane.

This is crazy. It could be so easy to change that. It just takes a little decision. It doesn’t mean that you change drastically other things of your way of life.

There are so many things like that we could do.

 

“What you call happiness, we call suffering”

Isn’t it the case that some of these actions that we can would not only have a positive impact on the world, but it would also make us happier like investing in relationships—

The Buddhists are very clear about how we want happiness, but turn our backs to the cause of happiness. We don’t want to suffer, but we run to all of the causes of suffering.

I had a Buddhist teacher who said, ‘what you call happiness here, we call it suffering.’ That was a pretty terse statement.

What did he mean by that?

It means that when people look for happiness by trying to remain forever young, in wealth, in power, in fame, in rank in society, in extrinsic value, in the latest fashionable clothes, in the latest model of this and that, in the latest car, having a flashy home with a lot of stuff, and then adding to that the endless succession of pleasurable experiences, which are recipe for exhaustion.

You are completely fooled by this. You are looking for happiness in the totally wrong place. That’s called lack of discernment or ignorance. So those things simply don’t bring genuine, lasting happiness or fulfillment or contentment.

Where should people be looking for happiness and contentment? 

I tried to write a book about that. There’s this idea that happiness is not the same thing as pleasant sensations. It’s a way of being. And it’s not just one thing of course.

It’s a cluster of qualities like inner freedom, inner peace, inner strength, compassion, altruistic love, not having an over inflated sense of ego. These are all kinds of basic human qualities.

The good news is that all those can be cultivated as skills. And that’s where mind training and neuroplasticity comes into the picture. So when all of those are being brought to their optimum point, then you have a fulfilled life, a sense of resilience, inner strength, of inner freedom. You have the inner resources to deal with the ups and downs of life.

It has nothing to do with the forever seeking of pleasant sensations. It simply doesn’t work. And there’s nothing wrong with pleasure. But it simply is not the same thing as fulfillment.

So what we’re up against here is a challenge of educating people to change their behaviour.

You start writing books by hopefully gathering scientific and philosophical and experiential evidence. It’s a little drop in the ocean. Altogether with many other trends of ideas and thoughts that make up our culture.

So our culture is shifting with time. Let’s see what will come up.

Is it a more cooperative, altruistic happier society or will we continue to go to the narcissistic epidemics like we can see in North America?

 

Love and Altruism: The Path to a Better World

I’m very aware of the proliferation of good science and books like the work you’re doing. But there’s also a terrible rise of partisanship and difficulty understanding the other side. I think this is partly due to the rise of social media.

What is your take on that as an obstacle to improving—

It’s a concerning force. I don’t know which one will win over.

I’m not a clairvoyant. You can see those forces at play. When writing my book on altruism, I had to explore those antagonist forces because, otherwise, I would have been naive just to say that altruism is the solution, and that’s it.

But of course there are so many things like the cause of violence, what makes someone a psychopath,  how can we commit genocide, how can we make whole massacres of animals?

So what are the solutions? Education, more caring economics, global governance, etc. There’s this huge wealth of reflection among all of those issues. Myself, along with many other friends, have spent many years trying to formulate all of those things and analyze to the best that I could.

I have done what I could. Now I’m a bit old and I want to go back to the contemplative life.

I sort of did my best with humble limited capacity on the subjects that I felt were really important. Now I think it’s time to go and do something else.

I can speak for my listeners and for myself when I say that we hope you can keep going for as long as you can because I think you’re doing some really important work. 

If there’s one thing that you would to ask people to do or one suggestion for how people can begin to both improve the world around them and cultivate their own well-being, what would you advise people to do?

Well, it’s very simple, on a personal level, cultivate loving kindness, compassion, benevolence, and on a global level, feel a sense of universal responsibility. Don’t stop at your close ones. Extend the circle to all sentient beings. And even to future generations.

So if we expand this scope and the circle of compassion, then I think that’s the best thing we could do both for ourselves and for society. I think altruism or altruistic love or whatever you call it is the two fold accomplishment of others good and your own good.

And the only way to reconcile your immediate needs, to fulfill one’s needs for survival and so forth is through cooperation and kindness. The mid term needs are flourishing in life. And the long term needs are caring for the future generation, for other species, for the planet because competition and selfishness will not do the job.

So if we can cultivate compassion, that’s the very best thing we can do both for ourselves and for others.

Thank you very much for saying that. I really appreciate the message. And I hope our listeners do as well. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Yes, in this spirit, in April, we’re trying to organize a beautiful meeting in Montreal on the subject of taking care of life. So we have people of all walks of life including a neuroscientist, we have a witness who spent 15 years in slaughterhouses, and we have a wonderful artist Maria Joao Pires, a pianist. We have Alexandre Jollien, who is a Swiss philosopher who co-wrote called In Search of Wisdom with me.

So I think this kind of event is bringing this kind of idea to a live audience to be part of that cultural change and hopefully help make a little bit better of a world.

I will definitely make all of the information about that event available on the show notes for this episode.

Also, the proceeds of all that will go to Karuna Shechen projects in Asia. So it’s a two fold fulfillment of aspirations of oneself and that of others.

Why and How to Start Meditating in 2019

Welcome to 2019!

The new year can be a simultaneously exciting and daunting time, with the endless possibility that new digits on the calendar somehow seem to promise, and the responsibility of living up to those expectations. On the one hand meditation teaches us that every moment is full of possibility and that it’s always possible to regroup, find our breath, and begin again. On the other hand, these seasonal markers can often help provide the jumpstart we need to transform our minds, our habits, and our lives. Fortunately, these two approaches are not mutually exclusive.

Why Not Do Both?

If you’ve been thinking about finally making meditation a serious practice in 2019, I highly recommend a similar two-pronged approach. Firstly, just get started. You don’t need any fancy clothes or equipment or to go on a 10-day retreat. This is mental fitness that has a lower barrier to entry than almost anything else you can do for your health. And second, if you do get frustrated or discouraged, remember that you can always start again. In fact, this is basically what we do in meditation; we pay attention to what is actually happening, and when the quality of that attention wanes we bring it back, without judgement. Eventually the mental muscle strengthens, the same way the stomach might after a lot of sit-ups.

One Habit To Rule Them All

The beautiful thing about making meditation a habit is that it can then be applied to transform all kinds of other behaviours and aspects of our lives. If you’re like me, when the New Year comes there’s a long list of changes I want to apply, and it’s tempting to dive in and tackle all of them at once (eating habits, sleeping habits, work habits, technology habits…). This kind of multitasking approach to behaviour change can hinder the best of intentions. Better to start with one and work from there. With a solid meditation practice you might even find that other habits come or go without much effort at all. (I was pretty dumbfounded in 2018 to find my 25-year nail-biting habit suddenly vanish with the lightest of mindful intention applied, and for a long-sought after running regime to suddenly having taken root.)

Why and How to Start Meditating in 2019

All that said, meditation isn’t for everyone, and it’s best to start slowly and with the guidance and support of live professionals, if possible. It’s a deceptively simple practice, but like all forms of exercise is not without its nuances, and its risks. You can definitely get started at home or with an app, but if you want to affect some long-term, sustainable change, I fully believe working with experienced professionals (and peers!) is your best bet.

If you’re in Montreal, the easiest way to get started is to come by one of our Presence Meditation locations for a drop-in class or introductory workshop. (And we’ve just discounted our one-month introductory pass for the duration of the month of January…) Or if you’re looking for something a little more intensive, Numinus offers a number of 8 week mindfulness-based programs catered to various specific needs, including stress reduction, cognitive therapy, and more, as well as two-hour Introduction to Mindfulness workshops.

Whatever your situation, if you’ve got your eyes set on some kind of transformation in 2019 and haven’t really tried meditating yet … what are you waiting for?

Finding Community

There is a story of a woman who went to visit the Buddha. Upon meeting him, she asked “I’ve been meditating every day, I sit alone under a tree for hours. Lately, I cannot find my purpose. I feel lost and lonely all the time. What should I do?”

To this, the Buddha said, “Go home and meditate in the same space that you have, this time however, focus with the knowledge that every member of your family, your friends, everyone you hold near to you, will eventually die.”

The woman found that her true meaning was rooted in love for those around her—that in recognizing the delicate nature of life, she was better able to connect with her own heart and the love of others.

We are a people meant for connection. Studies consistently show social isolation as one of the most damaging physiological and psychological experiences that a person can have.

Conversely, when surrounded by supportive people, our bodies reward us with increased immunity, strength, and resilience (and even weight loss!). Meditation, itself, is helpful but a meditation community of like-minded individuals can have fundamentally transformative effects on us.

Some people are hesitant to join in a practice of shared spirituality. It can seem threatening and scary or even just esoteric and new-agey. Finding a secular community is often the most comfortable place for people who are hesitant. In the case of Numinus, gatherings are completely secular, grounded in simple meditation, but borrow some of the activities from other spiritual communities and allow people to connect in a safe and supportive manner.

Still, when our faith or beliefs get made public, there is a certain vulnerability that exists. We are sharing something deeply personal and exposing it to the scrutiny of others. This is okay; opening up in a community can be the first step at regaining trust in yourself and others.

A mindfulness community can present us with an enormous opportunity for healing and growth. It can allow us to form connections with like-minded people, to support a healthy lifestyle (difficult in modern urban life), to challenge our ideas and beliefs, to learn, and to find refuge in times of need. Within the context of mindfulness, community is a way of supporting our practice and keeping a sense of aliveness and vibrancy to the work that we are doing. This practice of meditation challenges us to open our hearts in new ways. Finding healing partners within the community gives us that very opportunity to explore the further bounds of our hearts. Numinus is creating this very type of community.

It is said that meditation is practice for the rest of our day. In much the same way, mindfulness community is practice for our inhabitance in greater society. Or, at the very least, a mindfulness community encourages us to not check our cell phones in the middle of a meditation.

Timothy Eden, MSW is a Clinical Social Worker, Assistant to the Director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, and a graduate of the Tulane School of Social Work.

Episode 6: Meditation and Well-Being with Dharma Teacher Pascal Auclair

“Let go a little and you’ll have a little peace. Let go a lot you’ll have a lot of peace. Let go completely and you’ll experience complete peace.” – Ajahn Chah

In this episode of the Numinus podcast, Dr. Joe speaks with Pascal Auclair about meditation and its role in cultivating well-being.

They discuss:

Pascal Auclair is a meditation and Dharma teacher. He leads Insight Meditation retreats around the world and teaches locally in Montreal with True North Insight. His teaching schedule, as well as other info, is available at pascalauclair.org. He is also on facebook at pascal.auclairmeditation.

If you’re interested in learning more about the mindfulness meditation classes available at Numinus. There should be plenty of programming to suit your schedule, in one of our 3 locations: Westmount, downtown, and Outremont.

You can also drop in to Presence, our meditation studio, located on St. Viateur in the heart of Mile End.

You can stay in touch with Dr. Joe on

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Here are some highlights of the conversation with Pascal:

What do you do when you teach meditation?

In a way I just do nothing with people for a number of days in a beautiful rural environment. We practice just paying attention. It’s an amazing thing. It’s something that really touches me, to be with a group of people and just pay attention. I think it’s a strange and beautiful thing to do.  Usually… if you’re pay attention it’s because there are ideas being shared or there is music or movies or a play or dance and people come together and they pay attention to something – some kind of entertainment, we could say. And in the classes we come together and we pay attention but there is nothing being presented except our psyches and nature – life of the senses. And it’s quite remarkable that people can do that come together and offer attention, offer presence to themselves and to the space.

As we sit and we pay attention first the mind might pacify itself – like calm itself. And also we’ll notice how the psyche behaves, what it does. So if you and I and the people listening to us were to stop for a few minutes and say “let’s do nothing and just pay attention,” what would happen to us? One of us would start worrying about later today this or that and another of us would start thinking about earlier this morning – or something of the past and by just doing this, we notice what are our habits of mind. And are they really useful? Are they liberating or entangling?

Another thing that happens is a kind of softening of the heart. So in just paying attention like this, there is something that opens up maybe appreciation of the quietness or maybe compassion for the confused mind or agitated mind. We can be touched by the way we live. And that’s quite remarkable.

 

How did you get in to meditation and eventually teaching?

I was sooo interested in the studies I was doing . I thought it’s the beginning. I’m beginning to calm my mind. Now my mind is a little bit gathered instead of scattered and it’s more laser like and I’m starting to see things in a much more refined way. The quick behaviour of the mind, all kinds of movements of mind and heart. Reactivity judgement self-loathing, self-aggrandizement, all these movements. And noticing the pain, the mistaken views that were behind these attitudes.

Discovering what it is like to be in a body – to be in a heart and mind. And the way the heart and mind can behave and create so much trouble for oneself. And the way it can also be so beautiful with itself. There can be calm, curiosity, joy, benevolence, friendliness, when that’s there, reality is so different. And this is amazing to discover! That reality changes with mindstates. In hopelessness and despondency – “oh my god I’m stuck here for another 2 months” and “people are building careers and having families and buying homes and participating in society and I’m here people cooking for me, and I’m doing nothing, sitting on my ass all day.” So that’s a mind state. And another mind state is gratitude: “cannot believe I am given this time to actually detoxify this mind – really take responsibility for what’s happening in there.” Starting to make order and clarify how is the best way for myself and others to use this mind instead of cultivating self-deprecation or arrogance. What is the taste of humility? True humility? I really want to be there when it shows up. I don’t’ want to be too occupied by other things. That’s the laboratory.

 

What skills are you training in yourself and teaching to others? How does that help you and others cultivate well-being?

There is a chain of mental qualities that are develop as we pay attention. Paying attention, something will start to stand out. I’ll notice either sounds or the quality of my mind, the impatience, the turbulence. This is often – in Insight Meditation – one way to describe this practice. The first insight is we notice that our minds are a little “crazy” (I don’t know if it’s ok to use this word in this way but…). You’ll just sit and say “let’s pay attention to just the quality of the air, the temperature, the quietness in the room, and then will be “am I doing this right? I don’t know if I’m doing this right, etc…” And this will be revealed. The tendency of the mind… and so will get curious. So we’ll go from being duped by our mind-states to becoming awake to them. Instead of just believing impatience we’ll start to feel the effect of impatience on the body-mind right now. And if there happens to be some kind of quiet listening, then we might get interested in the contentment that arises in just being there attentive. Suddenly, I don’t need to be somebody else, further along. So it cuts through some illusions that I have. The illusory, mirage-like nature of these beliefs is revealed, just by that. For me that’s very powerful.

So I sit there. I think I have so many things to do today and I should be somebody else and this and that and I sit and just pay attention and suddenly it’s full. And so when I go back to that belief or the things to do maybe I’ll be a little bit more free from the grasp of these thoughts.

I pay attention, something will stand out. It activates curiosity in my mind. And curiosity in time will bring some kind of enthusiasm or contentment or something like this. And this will lead to the calming of the mind that was scattered and busy and occupied in all kinds of ways. The mind will calm because it will be content, interested in what’s here.

In this way I’ll see more clearly reality. So that’s kind of a fast version I give you. The reality is much more messy than this. I get lost, doubt comes “what am I doing? Why am I doing this? I’m wasting my time” etc. But slowly I get to clarify how I’m living. How I’m being. So that’s one way to talk about this.

If mindfulness is just a word that is used to entice people and it doesn’t have the depth, then I’m really sorry, because it’s a very powerful thing… The buddhist teachings are about suffering and the end of suffering…

A really big part of this is the suffering that this system called pascal – this body, psyche, hormonal everything. How it creates suffering for itsefl. And how, with the same tools – psyche, heart and body – it can create some kind of healing, psychological healing or inner wellbeing… And so a big part of the practice is to sit in meditation and in daily ife and to observe how the 2nd arrow is planted in the heart by one’s own psyche. A lot of hte buddhist teaching is like this – to see how one creates trouble for oneself. And how we can untangle the tangles of the heart and mind. So that is one aspect.

 

How do you engage with social justice with your practice?

Another aspect of this, for me, very very clear, I have no doubt about this, if I think about suffering and the end of suffering, I can see it, really clearly, that a society is also a system.  Like Pascal is it’s own little system. There is a larger system called society. At different scales. Society has in it a lot of tools to create suffering for itself or some members of it. And it also has everything there to create healing and support and visibility and safety and protection. It has everything to make people be the best of who they are and contribute. And so I’m interested in suffering and the end of suffering, so I’m very interested in how, in a systemic way, we create oppression and how we create privilege for some of us. How we start valuing in overt or hidden or unknown ways for some of us. To me that requires the same tools. In the sitting practice, I learn how to quiet the mind so it can really feel reality instead of being agitated by it’s preconceived ideas; how I can slow down and pay attention so that I can really see what is happening in my heart and my mind.  So what I need is quietness, calm, a stable mind that is very curious, honest, courageous, investigative. So these qualities I think are the same that are needed to look at society and how it produces well-being. It needs to go underneath my ideas that we are all equal… I might say “Oh no, it’s all equal, it’s all the same.” Well, but if I look a little closer, I’ll see that we might all be equal in thoughts, but in treatment, it’s not exactly what’s happening. So I need honesty, I need calm, curiosity. So for me teaching mindfulness is giving us the tools to address the issues of sexism, racism, ableism, ageism, fat-phobia, transphobia, homophobia. All the ways we elevate some of us and put down some of us. I’d like my practice and the teachings that I do to serve that goal of protecting human beings.

Episode 2: Mindfulness Growing Pains with Willoughby Britton and Jared Lindahl

Willoughby Britton and Jared Lindahl are two highly influential figures in the mindfulness community. Willoughby is an affective neuroscientist best known for her leadership in calling for a more nuanced and balanced conversation about the science of meditation. Jared is a religious studies scholar contributing to this conversation by raising sensitivity to cultural and religious diversity in meditative experience. They are both engaged in the Varieties of Contemplative Experience Project, which investigates the types of experiences meditators have, including adverse ones. This recently published paper is the first of many for this project.

I had a wide-ranging conversation with Willoughby and Jared that lasted a little less than an hour. They are incredibly articulate and rigorous and doing genuinely groundbreaking work on the science of mindfulness.

Our conversation touched on:

Willoughby and Jared will be in Montreal this coming April 19-21 for Mindfulness Growing Pains, organized by mindfulnessMTL (mMTL). (They will be joined by David Treleaven, a Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness expert, whom I’ll be interviewing in a couple of weeks – stay tuned). The event features a public lecture about research on “Meditation-Related Challenges” and a 2-day training for mindfulness and meditation teachers on “Working Skillfully with Meditation-Related Changes.” mMTL is a not-for-profit community initiative I co-founded in 2015 to bring together mindfulness practitioners, teachers, health-care professionals in Montreal. All the information is available at mindflunessMTL website and Facebook page.

Highlights:

6:15 I asked WB about her 2011 TEDxTalk. You expressed a lot of hope and enthusiasm around the emergence contemplative neuroscience and the promise of that field in promoting well-being in the world. More recently, you have become known for your critical stance on the so-called “mindfulness movement.” What happened over that period?

7:30 WB talks about the evolution of the mindfulness movement from mindfulness 1.0 to mindfulness 2.0.

9:16 WB compares her relationship to the mindfulness movement to a romantic relationship: in the first phase, you feel in love and get caught up in the excitement and then as the relationship matures, you have a more balanced experience.

10:39 JL offers a brief history of the secular mindfulness movement.

15:10 JL suggests that the rise of mindfulness in the west can at least partly be attributed to the fact that mindfulness helps create meaning for people in a cultural context where religiosity is on the decline.

16:20 I ask WB about her recent publication: In recent years, there has been significant pushback from the scientific community to reign in the hype and do more rigorous science. In fact, you are an author on an important paper that just came out in Perspectives on Psychological Science called “Mind the hype” on the topic. What do really know about the benefits of mindfulness and what work is left to do?

21:15 I ask them about the Varieties of Contemplative Experience project: “What can you say about who is at risk for adverse experiences? For the clinicians out there, what can we say about contraindications?”

21:50 WB talks about some experiences she had during her psychiatric residency that inspired her to look into the darker side of meditation

28:46 I shared an example of a recent incident at our meditation studio, in which a participant had an intense adverse experience from a meditation practice. I asked them how they would recommend addressing it.

30:33 WB talks about the steps that should be taken long before that moment of crisis, including training the teacher and meditator to develop internal resources for finding safety in moments of difficulty.

34:00 JL: Why is it necessary to be sensitive to cultural diversity in teaching meditation?

38:02 I asked them to tell us about the origins of the teacher training they developed.

39:05 WB talks about the value of clinical training for instructions of Mindfulness-Based Interventions

40:30 WB describes the 6 modules of the training

43:30 I asked them how their research and interest in the darker side of meditation has impacted their personal practices.

Episode 1: Announcing the Numinus Podcast with Christian Roy

To mark 2018’s Bell Let’s Talk Day on January 31st, Numinus is excited to be launching a podcast hosted by Dr. Joe Flanders focused on mindfulness, mental health and wellbeing. Episodes will feature Joe in conversation with a wide range of guests. In this first episode, Joe had the privilege of sitting down with Christian Roy, a Montreal advertising executive and mindfulness practitioner to talk about workplace mental health, well-being, and resilience.

Christian is an unbelievably successful business man. He worked for a global pharmaceutical company for many years, before making the transition to advertising in 2013. He took the lead of the health division at Tank which quickly became an industry standout, thanks largely to Christian’s smarts and leadership. But in the spring of 2017, a series of bad sales numbers triggered a downward spiral into mental illness that would leave him panicked, 30 pounds underweight, and unable to get out of bed.

Christian tells us about his plunge into anxiety and depression, the “mental boot camp” that got him going again, his “recipe” for maintaining well-being, and how he talks about the experience with his colleagues. He also tells us why, after all that, he considers the experience a gift.

Christian offers rare and inspiring examples of how corporate leaders can embody openness, humility, and courage when dealing with mental health in the workplace. His story also highlights the importance of making self-care a priority, the impact of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and mindfulness meditation, and the value of understanding well-being as a skill to be developed and maintained.

Below is a transcript of some of the interview’s highlights. For another first hand account of the experience be sure and check out Christian’s blog as well.

 

Read excerpts from the conversation between Joe and Christian.

Christian describes his anxiety:

I started to become really anxious, then you know you don’t sleep well, so I’m not rested. I didn’t want to eat so I slowly stopped eating. I wasn’t as diligent with exercise. Then the little voice inside myself started to take more and more space and started to become louder and louder:

“Now at the most critical moment in our history… now is the time I’m letting them down.”

I’m struggling and at a time where I needed to be really focused and look for solutions and I started spinning and spinning and I was losing control.

“You’re letting them down. You’ve let things slip away. Why weren’t you on top of things? How can you let that happen? Those individuals trusted you… How can they trust you again?” It was louder and louder more present more and more negative. It was just me beating myself down…

The wheels are spinning and it’s not so much solution oriented but really problem. If I was awake, it didn’t matter what time, there was just absolutely no way I was going to fall asleep again.

His anxiety got so severe, he couldn’t perform even the most basic functions at work:

Very quickly I became completely useless at work. I wasn’t able to focus. With the anxiety came all these other cognitive symptoms. My ability to focus on a task, my short term memory started not working the way it used to. I just wasn’t very useful at work.

They used to refer to me as the crisis management guy. In times of crisis, this is the guy you want to be with. This is the guy you want there because he’s super calm when things get really messed up. I was thinking… I lost that. I started to think I was a bit of a fraud. I was just at the right place at the right time and I had the right people around me. I wasn’t really the guy. See now it’s happening and it’s your crisis and you’re not even showing up. To the contrary, now you’re panicking.

Now I didn’t know how I was going to make it to Vancouver. Like how can I get into a plane and fly for 5 hours and find the hotel? Things like that that I had done. I travelled the world and been in meetings in Seoul and Tokyo and travelled on my own. Now I was afraid that I wasn’t going to make it to Vancouver.”

His anxiety eventually lead to a major depression:

Frankly there were days I would come in, turn my computer on and look at my screen for hours and hours. I was past going on LaPresse or CNN websites. I couldn’t even focus.

There is nothing I liked to do any more. It’s like the joy of life had been sucked out of my body. There was just nothing that gave me pleasure anymore. I have 4 children, very close to them, and I would say even THAT. I still enjoyed having them near me, but there was nothing. Life had been sucked out.

That pain of depression. It’s a real pain. It’s like a pain in your soul where you wake up and there’s 2 or 3 seconds before you start feeling the pain and you’re thinking “oh, maybe the pain’s gone” and then it kicks in. And so you’re looking for how to get that pain under control. In my case, exercise would give me a bit of break. It wouldn’t completely go away but I would get a bit of a break.

Back in April, I was 189 lbs and now I was 159 lbs. I lost 30 lbs. For a guy who could lose 10 to be in tip top fighting shape. Maybe 10, but I couldn’t lose 30. So then at 159 my clothes don’t fit, my pants don’t fit and don’t talk to me about going shopping for clothes because I could hardly get out of bed and the last thing I want to do is be in a shopping centre. So I’m putting my baggy pants and my belt and I have to put yet another hole and my t-shirts are too big and every time I look in the mirror I see this guy I just can’t recognize.

Christian was in such bad shape that he was convinced he was going to end up living on the street:

I told [my therapist] I was going to wind up in Carre Viger as a homeless man. First of all I’m off work, I’m never going back to work. And even if I do, it’ll be in May and I’m going to fail. They’ll see that very quickly this time. At one point these guys are just going to say enough is enough. They’re going to throw me out. I’m going to wind up without a job. And I’m not going to find a new job. I can’t even keep the job that I know, how am I going to find a another job? Nobody is going to hire me. That’s going to create a financial issue for me. My wife is there for me, she is supporting me, but at one point she is going to get fed up. She’s in her early 50s, she’s beautiful, she’s intelligent, she’s going to say “I need to survive this.” I’m drowning she’s not going to allow herself to drown. So at one point she’s going to call it quits. And my kids, they’re like 13 and in their early 20s. At one point they’re going to move on with their life. The last thing they want is to spend any significant amount of time with their lose father. So financial difficulties, no job, no wife, no kids, no friends therefore, eventually, I’m going to get kicked out of my house and what am I going to do? I have no money, no jobs. So I’m going to wind up in Carre Viger! I was convinced.

With the help of therapy, medication, exercise, and a supportive entourage, Christian dug himself out of the hole. He tells us about the challenges he faced with his meds and about the impact of his Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. I asked him what was helpful in his CBT and he described an insight about self-compassion:

One thing is trying to retrain yourself to say… okay, who’s your best friend? Ok, my best friend is “Jonny.” If Jonny came to see you and told you the situation and what his fears are, what would you tell him?

So for example he’d say about the work environment “you know okay so you weren’t able to deliver on the revenues with this client because this happened you got an explanation. If that happened to Johnny, would you say “Johnny, you’re a loser!” like “I can’t believe you!” No, you’d say “Johnny this is business! Par for the course. You win some you lose some. Stuff happened that’s out of your control.” And so funny enough I was still able to say “yeah that’s what I would tell Johnny” but my little voice wasn’t buying that. My voice was still telling me that I was a loser.

He got back on his feet and gradually went back to work. When he first arrived back, he was completely open and authentic in his first meeting with his team:

I called the meeting and everybody came. I was sitting on the couch. I said: “hey, I’m happy to be back. I could be here telling you that I just finished chemotherapy and I’m able to come back or that I had knee replacement surgery. But that’s not what happened. I think Marc and the rest of the team were clear, I went through a burnout. I had a depression. I had a mental breakdown. That’s what happened to me. I’m sharing this with you because we say we should talk more about mental and we’re a communications agency and we’re in healthcare. So if we don’t do it, who’s going to do it?” I said “I don’t want there to be any malaise and people feeling uncomfortable. That’s what happened to me. It is what it is. I got lucky. I got out of it. I said I’m not going to go into details about the journey or about what helped me – I don’t want to bore you with those details. But if any of you wants to talk to me whether for personal reasons, family reasons, just book some time to talk to me. We’ll go have lunch, have a coffee, whatever. And I’ll tell you everything and anything that you need to know. I have no problem discussing anything that happened to me. But that may not be for everyone. It happened to me. Doesn’t mean it’s going to happen to any of you but it also means that it COULD happen to any of you. Again, it’s like cancer, we don’t get to choose these things. There’s probably some things in my genetic background. I know that I’ve had big stresses, possibly bigger stresses than what I went through and I came out of it unscathed, no depression no burnout. But this time, you know what? It hit me and I fell down. And I’m back. I don’t know if it’s going to happen to me again. It might. I’m certainly playing the odds and applying my recipe and I’m extremely disciplined about it.” That was it. That meeting lasted 10 minutes. People just reacted the way they reacted. Some were just like business as usual. Some I could tell got teary-eyed and you could tell for some reason it hit home. But that’s it. The awkwardness was gone. I tell you by the end of the day it’s as if I hadn’t left.

The way I did it was probably the most selfish way to do it. Because I didn’t want to deal with the malaise. I didn’t want to deal with having to pretend. But coming out and being authentic about what happened – and I didn’t make it bigger or smaller than what it was it’s just the way it was for me – then the whole thing went away. It was easy for me!

Christian has a regular mindfulness meditation practice and relies on it to sustain his recovery:

Mindfulness. My practice of mindfulness and meditating and doing all the exercises to focus on being in the present moment. I need to do that. It makes me enjoy life because life is happening in the present tense. Not dwell on what happened or didn’t happen in the past. And not care too much about what’s going to happen tomorrow but like I’m with you and you’re the most important person in the world. You’re the most important people in my life because you’re the only one in my life right now. So what it does is that it’s really about enjoying what I’m doing right now in the moment. And the mindfulness practice – because it is a practice – I need to practice it every day. By practicing this I can be more in the now.

After all of that, Christian considers the whole experience to be a gift:

I got to go through a mental boot camp. I had the opportunity. I was well-surrounded. I had a great psychologist. A great GP. I have an amazing wife and children and support and people like you who referred me. I look at it and I see that as a positive experience because I’m a different person. I’m not changed completely but I’m a better person than I was prior to my burnout.

4 Ways to Get Your Mindfulness Meditation Practice Back on Track this Fall

September marks a period of transition for most of us; we can sense a shift as the days get shorter and summer gradually makes way for the fall season. This time of year involves returning to a more structured routine, getting the kids ready for back-to-school and daily activities. It also usually involves getting busier and feeling more stressed. As our life speeds up, many of us find a renewed interest in making time to resume our mindfulness meditation practice, something that we know is deeply restorative but that somehow has managed to fade with our summer plans.

Here are four tips to get your mindfulness meditation practice back on track this fall:

1. Write Down WHY Meditating Matters To You

The first step in getting back on track with your practice is to remember why meditating matters to you in the first place. Maybe it is to better manage the stress in your life, maybe to be more present with your children or your spouse, or maybe it is to find time to reconnect with yourself. Pick your top 3 reasons and write them down somewhere you will see them regularly: on the fridge, in your reminders on your phone, or on post-it notes that you put around the house or at work. See if you can get in the habit of taking a few moments at the beginning of every meditation session to remind yourself of these personal reasons. You may find that the act of regularly renewing your intentions to be mindful can be very powerful.

2. Plan WHERE and WHEN You Will Meditate

Having good intentions and a strong motivation can only get you so far. Research shows that to maximize the likelihood that you will maintain a behaviour that is not yet habitual, you need to supplement your intention with an action plan. Specifying where and when you will meditate, and linking it to a behaviour you are already doing, makes you more likely to actually carry it out and maintain this habit in the long run. For example, if meditating first thing in the morning suits your schedule, you may form the plan: “If I am done brushing my teeth in the morning, then I will immediately go sit on my meditation cushion.” Then write this plan down and mentally rehearse doing it a few times until it is firmly implanted in your memory.
<h3class="bold_text">3. How you Deal with a Lapse in Meditation Makes a Difference

If you are like most people, life will get in the way. You’ll get busy, and after a few days, you’ll realize that you haven’t been meditating. This is a given. How you work with this lapse can have an important impact on your practice. Meeting it with judgment and self-criticism will put you in a state of negative affect, which will lead you to putting it off until some distant future when you’ll (somehow) have more time or motivation to meditate. However, meeting it with kindness and understanding will ensure that you are in an ideal state of mind to get back up after getting temporarily derailed. The great thing about mindfulness is that it is a state of awareness that is always immediately accessible. Why is that? Because it is about dropping into the present moment, and guess what – it’s always now. No matter how long it has been since you’ve lost our practice, you can always begin again in this moment… or this one!

4. Find out WITH WHOM You Will Meditate

What can really shield your meditation practice from the chaos of everyday activities is by finding ways to get support from others and from your community. One way to do this is by finding a meditation buddy. Pair up with a family member or someone at work and report to them daily on your meditation experience, in person or by email. This keeps you accountable and motivated. There are also tons of great apps that can help you keep up your meditation practice by connecting with others. You can also engage with the broader community by participating in online events, such as this one that takes place throughout October, where you can join thousands of other people interested in practicing mindfulness meditation. Additionally, look for local resources. Here at the Numinus clinic, we offer a variety of mindfulness programs, including the all-new weekly sitting groups, which can be a great way of keeping your practice alive by regularly meditating with others.