A Fire Was Lit: Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Training
I was a Certified Public Accountant. I was depressed and anxious. I saw a YouTube video of Jon Kabat-Zinn speaking at google. I started to train in mindfulness based stress reduction and my life changed.
When I watched that video of Jon Kabat-Zinn something changed in me. I didn’t identify it at the time, but looking back this was a pivotal moment in my life. It was the beginning of a major shift in my perception. Before this, I always believed that I was the thoughts that were racing through my mind. Watching that video planted a new seed in me. It introduced me to how to live from a place of awareness. It showed me that there are the thoughts in the mind, but there is also the awareness of these thoughts. And, this awareness could be cultivated and strengthened.
Try an experiment with me: stop reading for 20 seconds and be aware of the sensations in your entire body and then continue reading. Really. Stop. Try it. The awareness that you just brought to your entire body (and if you didn’t please go back and try it) can be called awareness or mindfulness. Can we agree that this mindfulness or awareness is other than thought? To see that we can live from a place of mindfulness or awareness instead of following the racing mind through life is a shift in perception. For me this shift in perception lit a fire in my heart. It was a shift I needed, because my racing mind was starting to exhaust me. As I mentioned I was depressed and anxious, and I have my racing mind to thank for that. The fire in my heart has been slowly burning ever since. In retrospect, this is when I knew I must learn more about mindfulness based stress reduction. This is what eventually led me to quit my job at the accounting firm and eventually become a mindfulness based stress reduction teacher (and a psychotherapist but I’ll leave that for another article).
My First Formal Training: 8 Week Mbsr Course
I took an 8-week course in mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) in 2012, my teacher’s name was Cory Muscara. To be honest, I remember being very skeptical when I handed him my check for the course fee. But, some intelligence in me trusted this process. In the end I am very glad I took the course, as Cory is a wonderful teacher who has helped me tremendously along my pathway. The training pathway that I am following requires that one starts by taking this 8 week course. There were about 10 of us in the class. We met once a week for 2.5 – 3.5 hours and we were asked as a homework assignment to practice mindfulness exercises for 45 minutes a day for 8 weeks. Including class time and homework time, this comes out to approximately 70 hours of mindfulness based stress reduction training.
The most captivating thing to me about this course was how different mindfulness meditation was from my previous idea of it. I walked in with an idea that I would be sitting in silence and trying to quiet my mind. Instead, we sat down in class one and were handed a raisin. What? I am smiling as a write this as I remember what one of my teachers told me 6 years later in my mindfulness based stress reduction training. She said “it’s all in the raisin . . . everything is in the raisin”. I can see very clearly what she means now, but at the time all I was thinking was “this raisin better be magical for what I paid to take this class”. I won’t go in to detail about the raisin exercise. If you are interested, you can see for yourself by taking a course.
My Silent Retreats/Intensive Trainings
“As part of his training to become a qualified teacher, James participated in four meditation retreats, engaging in intense meditation practice for 8-10 hours a day, for 7-10 days at a time. He spent two such retreats practicing mindfulness in complete silence”. You can find that in my bio. I had my brother write that for me and refer to me in third person because I read online that people will take you more seriously that way. Despite this, I decided to write this article in first person because. . . well because I wanted to. Anyway, my retreats.
To unpack what I learned in my four retreats would probably take me a lifetime, so I have decided to share with you a “nugget” that I took with me from each one:
- 1st retreat: This 10-day retreat was held in complete silence: no eye contact, no gestures, no non-verbal communication in any way. On the 11th day when we broke the silence, I shared a smile with a man while I was brushing my teeth and I was filled with joy, and that smile sums up what I learned. I learned the importance of human connection.
- 2nd retreat: This was held mostly at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. This retreat was 9 days long. Omega Institute is a beautiful campus, filled with gorgeous orange-breasted robins flying around peacefully. I can sum up what I learned on this 9 day training in a few words, “when the bird is tired, it rests”. I would see the robin’s flying around, but when they were tired they would find a branch, sit and breathe and rest. Since then I have been much more cognizant of recognizing exhaustion and letting myself rest.
- 3rd retreat: In this 7-day silent retreat I learned to call myself sweetheart and place my hand on my heart when I became angry at myself during meditation. I learned that if I meet anger with more anger, it will be ugly. And, if I meet anger with compassion, it will be much more liberating. Of course this sounds simple, compassion instead of anger. But the habits of my mind make it a difficult thing to practice. My mindfulness training helps me bring compassion instead of anger.
- 4th retreat: I learned to importance of balance, and how not looking away from our pain can be extremely healing. This is a big one, so I think I will write another article on the relationship between suffering and growth.
What I Have Learned On My Path
My training in mindfulness based stress reduction has been fruitful. It has not always been easy. In fact, it has at times been very difficult. But the tools I have learned on this training pathway have helped me look directly at my suffering and learn from it. I have learned that suffering and growth are not separate. I have learned to trust the intelligence in me that takes me where I go in life. I have learned to place my hand on my heart and be kind to myself. I have learned that sometimes we don’t need meditation; sometimes we need rest. I have learned that everyone and everything can become our teacher if we open our eyes and hearts. I have learned that I have anger in me, and that this is alright. I have learned the importance of formal mindfulness meditation practice, and how without a formal practice, all of these other lessons may be forgotten.