When I first began this blog in mid-March, 2009, one of my goals was to post excerpts from one of the classes I teach at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (ITP) (now Sofia University), my introduction to mindfulness practices. I wanted to share information about the value of mindfulness, about the way it actually worked for students, and give potential ITP students a look at the way an actual class ran instead of the usual brief abstracts in university catalogs. Many excerpts were posted in the first couple of years of the blog, but lately few as I have been inspired to write a lot of other material on consciousness, spirituality, parapsychology and the like. In the 10-week class – that’s why I call it an introduction to mindfulness, there’s so much you can’t cover in such a short period – I first introduce students to the two basic forms of meditation I have a little competence in, concentrative meditation and vipassana, “insight” or mindfulness meditation. But these are just bases in the course to move on to becoming more able to practice increased mindfulness in the course (and stresses) of everyday life, so I focus on basic self-remember along the lines of my understanding of G. I. Gurdjieff’s work.
I’ve always been pleased with the outcome. I don’t expect anyone to “master” mindfulness in this brief time, but everyone has at least had a taste of what greater mindfulness can be like, and some tools for producing it. As I usually teach this in the Fall (although I now doing a shorter version as an online workshop a few times a year through GlideWing.com), I tell me students the big test of what they’ve learned will likely come at Thanksgiving if they go home to their families: all the subtle and not-so-subtle stressors will be there!
So I was delighted and reminded of how effective mindfulness practice can be for some, even after only four weeks of training, with the following student paper, reproduced here by permission.
PRES (PhD Residential program) 3079 – MINDFULNESS
The classroom discussion regarding emotional intelligence last week inspired me to be conscious of the topic during an upcoming family event. This past weekend, my sister was married in Boston and I knew there would be many chances for me to practice staying calm and centered during emotionally challenging situations surrounding various family dynamics. A couple of my family members have very strong personalities and often lash out or become easily agitated. They often emit negative and nervous energies, creating stressful situations. Due to the stress often surrounding wedding details, I anticipated there being some difficult moments. Practicing “Self Remembering” and Vipassana over the past few weeks provided me with access to a place of calm, peace, and tranquility. With the ability to remain centered and aware of my body, I could easily identify emotions that surfaced. Since I knew I was going to experience potentially difficult moments this past weekend, I had a strong intention to remain present and mindful.
As Tart discussed in class, by staying present, our emotional center won’t be as reactive and cause emotional hijacking. I definitely had many opportunities to put this to test. Throughout the days, especially when I was around certain family members who had triggered emotional reactions within me in the past, I made sure I was splitting my attention between my inner and outer environments. When a family member snapped or lashed out at me, for example, I noticed that I was much more calm. If I responded, it would be a clear-minded statement without an emotionally charged element. I noticed that my response surprised the family members and immediately changed the dynamic. Either they seemed to stop emitting the negativity and walked away, or it increased the anger or whatever negative emotion they were feeling. The increase in emotion, however, would not last long and it seemed to stem from confusion or frustration since their energy was not being fed. It was quite remarkable.
To further test my new mindfulness skills, I experienced being stranded in Boston due to the hurricane. During the peak of my Maid of Honor duties that were mostly attempting to calm a very stressed bride, I received news such as my flight being canceled, not being able to leave for several days, and realizing I would miss a week of classes. Looking back, my response to that situation was shocking. I was able to receive all of that information in a calm manner, although I did have my moments of stress. My overall reaction was much improved compared to how I would have reacted in the past. To even further my test, I then rode in a car for 20 hours with my parents back to Ohio where they live. Twenty hours in a car with anyone could bring up emotional reactions, especially with my parents. I realized I need much more practice in meditation and mindfulness techniques and that I have not mastered them by any means since I was unable to stay centered during the whole trip. In addition to the difficult dynamics, the stress of bad weather, rain, snow, wind and waves crashing onto the expressway at points did not help. I am however quite impressed regarding the overall change I’ve seen in my emotional intelligence. If I were to have experienced this past weekend a year ago, I know it would not have been pretty.