In Response to the Shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue.

As I’m many of you have heard, yesterday in Pittsburgh, PA at the Tree of Life Synagogue, 11 people senselessly lost their lives,and three brave Pittsburg PD officers were injured in the line of duty, protecting and serving. As a proud and active Canadian-American Jew, in what is being deemed the worst act of anti-Semitism in US history, shakes me to my core. It makes me feel sick, rattled, violated, and unsafe. This, my friends, presents the ultimate challenge in being mindful. How do we do such a thing after an such an egregious act of hate? I won’t pretend to know the answer, for there isn’t one magical answer that will cure all. In a time where anti-Semitism runs rampant throughout parts of the US and much of Europe, all Jews and those that love and support them need to stand together as one. We need to acknowledge how we and others feel, sitting with the disgust and violation, welcoming it, using it to propel change. We as one species must act to ensure that acts of anti-Semisitm that laid the basis for the slaughter of 6 million Jews and many others in the Holocaust never happens again. Together, hand-in-hand, we stand strong protecting those that need us so they may protect us when we need them.

In closing, I leave you all with my favourite poem entitled “First they came…” written by “German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984). It is about the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power…” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came_…):

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

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Back on Solid Ground, But Not Solidly On Ground

To my readers: you may or may not have been wondering where I’ve been or why I stopped blogging. Certainly, it wasn’t due to lack of interest. Since my last post, I have relocated to Montreal to start my Doctoral studies and recently got married, all of which have dominated much of my time. Now that I’m back on solid ground, I felt this the opportune time to relaunch my adventure through mindfulness with all of you.

I am happy to say that mindfulness is all around me these days, even if I’m struggling to engage. My supervisor runs the McGill Mindfulness Research Lab, I’m putting aside numerous resources on mindfulness I hope to read in the near future, I’ve joined a local meditation studio, and I am engaging in a study on mindfulness, stress, and law enforcement. On the outside, it appears my connection to mindfulness is well-reinforced. However, there is an internal struggle many who practice confront: am I engaged enough? Am I doing mindfulness right? While I am avidly gobbling up all the information I can on mindfulness not only for myself, but for future clients, I find myself getting overwhelmed. There is so much to digest it’s hard to know where to start. This may sound disheartening, but to those who also feel the same way I have good news: the recognition of feeling overwhelmed is in of itself, an act of mindfulness. The recognition of those internal states and racing thoughts shows you are attuned to your body. Address these negative sensations as friends, for it’s your body’s way of telling you you need time to disconnect with the world and reconnect with yourself.

You may be asking where do I go from here, what do I do with these feelings over being overwhelmed. You may be tempted to run and distract yourself with Netflix, but I invite you to take a different approach. Go find a mediation cushion, couch, or chair, light a candle, put on some entrancing music, let yourself just feel and reconnect to yourself and your environment. Finally, remember there is no such thing as doing meditation wrong. Some sits you’ll be on Cloud 9, others you may feel as though you’re in the middle of a tornado. Sitting with this knowledge is mindfulness and will help you on your journey towards reconnection with yourself, your surroundings, and with those you love and who love you.

The Story of Passover: How Does Mindfulness Relate?

Before delving into tonight’s post, I first want to sincerely apologize for my prolonged absence. The past number of weeks have been very busy with exciting life developments (e.g., being accepted into a PhD program, travelling) that have required my attention. This serves as an unintended lesson in mindfulness: sometimes you need to devote your attention to one or two things at the expense of others. Other tasks may be put on the back burner a bit longer, but you will complete your tasks knowing you were fully present while doing so.

Clearly, I’m digressing so let’s get into it. For those of the Jewish faith, we recently celebrated the 8-day long holiday of Passover, in which we tell the story of Exodus. Exodus, of course, is the the story of how Moses freed the Jewish people from the bondage of slavery at the hand of the ancient Egyptians. This is not a new story; indeed the Last Supper is a portrait of a seder (which means “order,” alluding to the structure of how the meal is supposed to go), or the special meal eaten on the first two nights. Indeed, at many seder tables, the story of Passover is told involving family members and friends of all ages, and discussions around slavery and freedom fly fast and furious. So how does this connect to mindfulness? Let’s find out.

On the seder plate (see graphic below), we have various items, with each food symbolizing a part of the story:

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Of course, the one thing missing from the graphic that is a stable at every table during the holiday is matzah, a giant cracker made of unleavened bread. Jews avoid anything with leaven in it to remember that our ancestors didn’t have time to let the bread rise as they escaped bondage. Judaism is a very intentional faith and religion; no story is told without a moral and no food is eaten without a symbolic reason. Each item helps us to connect to the story, as do other aspects of the meal which are far too numerous for this post.

During this holiday, we are encouraged to remember how we were once slaves in a foreign land and how we can be better not only to others still suffering, but to our own internal suffering or emotional enslavement. Every day, we encounter our own trials and tribulations: the difficult assignment at work or school, traffic, making a silly mistake. These are things that we may beat ourselves up for: Why don’t I understand the assignment? Why didn’t I live 10 minutes earlier? Why didn’t I watch what I was doing? For many, this can lead to rumination and stress. Remembering the story of the enslaved Jewish people and how they endured, even when it didn’t seem possible, is a reminder we too can endure.

What many people don’t know is that Moses had a terrible stutter, so terrible that his brother Aaron had to help him communicate with the Jewish people as they were wandering in the desert. If Moses, the unlikely shepherd-turned-hero could overcame a severe speech impediment and the many challenges that his people and G-d both presented him with to bring his people to the Holy Land of Israel, then we too must find our own inner Moses (and if need be, Aaron) to overcome the daily stresses of life. This can be one of life’s greatest challenges, but as you will find in time, it will also be one of life’s greatest rewards.

Mindfulness in a Time of Change

Before delving into today’s post, I want to sincerely apologize for being MIA the past number of days. Things have been very busy (as they are for most people), but as with all things, it’s all about perspective. The busy week serves as inspiration for today’s post on change.

Change is inevitable. For some such as those on the autism spectrum, small changes such as transitions from task to task can be very challenging. For myself and many others, major life changes can be stressful, but exciting. As I prepare for my move back to Canada to start my PhD program in Counselling Psychology, there is a lot on my mind: Where do we live? When do we move? How long will it take to get my fiancee’s immigration paperwork in order? How will we pay for everything? All of these things can be very unsettling because it disrupts the natural order of a comfortable daily life.

Routine breeds comfort, but it can also breed boredom. During this stressful, but exciting time, I have to remind myself of all the great things that will come from this change. Being mindful of how I react to the change can help me keep this exciting time in perspective and fully immerse myself in the enjoyment of starting a new chapter in my life. Next time a major life change presents itself, I challenge you to be aware of how it impacts you and sit with it. You will appreciate it, and yourself all the more for it.

 

With a generator powering the house, my family reluctantly went through belongings at my sister’s home. While going through her bedroom, deciding what clothes to keep and what to donate, I discovered a journal containing my sister’s own words about her time as a prison guard. At the age of twenty-one my sister, Jami, went […]

via The Untold Story of a Prison Guard’s Struggle — Tropics of Meta

Some Thoughts on Compassion for the Other and the Self

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Compassion. Merriam-Webster defines it as, “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it” (emphasis added). Normally, I find dictionary definitions to be very academic in nature, as they should be. However, this definition is beautifully spot-on. This word, compassion, is very simple on its face, yet is very loaded when you take a magnifying glass to it.

If you’ve found your way here today, I think it’s safe to say that you, like me, strive to alleviate pain and suffering loved ones experience. In fact, you may even go to such lengths to alleviate the pain that you start to internalize it yourself. I know I have. It’s in our nature to react as such when we see others in pain or distress. In fact, the same regions of the brain that activate when physical pain is experienced activate when emotional pain is experienced (this is why depression can physically hurt. Check out this site by a fellow WordPress-er on how to tackle depression and anxiety). For my male readers out there, you may find yourself running around trying to physically do something to make someone feel better. Despite all my mental health training, this is my natural instinct too, rather than just listening. For my female readers, you may find yourself listening intently. These are all actions of deep compassion for the other. No matter how you display compassion for the other, you probably find it easy, instinctive, natural. So why then do we struggle to do the same for ourselves?

I imagine there are as many answers to this question as there are people asking it. From my perspective, it’s about being objective. This is difficult for many people, unless you have an uncanny knack for removing emotion when needed. In his book The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Eckhart Tolle suggests that at some point in the past, humans “fell from grace,” a statement he uses repeatedly throughout his book. Tolle suggests that it’s this fall from grace that perpetuates the inner and outer violence we experience, participate in, and/or bear witness to (I plan to write a more comprehensive review of his book once I finish it). Tolle further suggests that our egoic mind drives us, and we become so used to its control that we just accept it. I like his unique, yet informed perspective, even if it is psychoanalytic in nature. We become so accustomed to the background static of our minds that we allow the critical inner-voice to take over when it’s not needed.

Mindfulness is all about consciousness of one’s own state from moment to moment. This is the key to turning down the volume on the egoic mind (the ego of course, is ” ‘that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world’ “).1,2 This is not to say we should turn off our inner critic. Rather, we should use it when it’s needed, then put it away. Pay attention, without judgement, to how you feel before, after, and during a moment of anxiety, doubt, frustration, etc. The more you pay attention to these sensations, the more you’ll learn and feel the difference between beating yourself up and understanding, without judgement, actions you’ve taken and decisions you’ve made. This, my friends, is the start to self-compassion.


https://www.simplypsychology.org/psyche.html

2 While this definition is not from an academic source, it is accurate and allows for a easy connection between psychoanalysis and self-compassion.