Thursday, March 31, 2011


Here’s a book which I heartily endorse. It’s called Wise Mind, Open Mind: Finding Purpose & Meaning in Times of Crisis, Loss & Change, and its written by psychotherapist Ronald A Alexander PhD (pictured opposite).

Ronald Alexander is the Executive Director of The OpenMind Training Institute as well as being an extension faculty member of the UCLA departments of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Entertainment, a lecturer in the David Geffen School of Medicine, and an adjunct faculty member at Pacifica Graduate Institute and Pepperdine University. He is also the author of another wonderful book which I also heartily endorse called Awakening the Buddha Within … wow, what a title! (Never think that the Buddha is just a historical figure. Buddha is an inner power to be tapped, and a potentiality within you to be realized.)

Wise Mind, Open Mindcombines techniques drawn from contemporary mind-body approaches, Buddhist psychology, mindfulness, creative thinking, and positive psychology to show you how to tap into your gifts and create a practical plan for personal transformation that will help you move through the challenges you face.

In times of loss or crisis, people tend to shut down and deny that their lives have been forever altered. Dr Alexander, a mindfulness-based psychotherapist trained in modern integrative mind-body methods of somatic psychology, mindfulness, and relational therapies, guides us through a three-step process that begins with melting even the fiercest resistance to unwanted change.

The most important item in Wise Mind, Open Mind toolbox is mindfulness meditation … demonstrably the best “method” (yes, I know, there really are no such “methods”) for learning to be fully present even in the most difficult and heart-wrenching of situations. Dr Alexander explains how a person can begin immediately developing a mindfulness practice that will build their mindstrength so that they can more easily accept change and uncertainty ("Letting Go"), reconnect with creativity ("Tuning In"), and craft a new life and self-definition ("Moving Forward").

Now, here are six ever-so-practical strategies from the book to help you mindfully recover from a loss:

1.    Reach out for support. Don't try to bear your loss or trauma alone. Ask for assistance from your friends, spiritual leaders, support groups and professionals. Remember, “we are as sick as we are secret” (the immortal words of American poet John Berryman, who sadly committed suicide because he himself could not reach out for support).
2.    Sit quietly and reflect. No matter the severity of your loss or trauma, sit quietly and ask yourself, "Historically, have I experienced other challenges in my life, and how did I navigate through them?" Now use these past experiences to tap into your internal courage and strength and explore whether you can implement the same strategies again.
3.    Trust your inner resources. Once you realize that you survived other losses and traumas before, trust in yourself to know that you have the ability to get through your present challenge. Say to yourself, “I am a person among persons, and what a person can do, I can do.”
4.    Learn to keep yourself centered through the unbearable feelings of grief. When the waves of sadness and helplessness wash over you, initially feel the emotion and its depth - without judgment or evaluation - but then start to breathe through the grief with slow, deep breaths. This will help you stay grounded and bring you back to the present.
5.    Start imagining a new life. Even though you are experiencing immense grief, which we all must face at some time or another, start to imagine and invent in your mind's eye a new future for yourself.
6.    Practice mindfulness. While doing grounding practices such as meditation, yoga or even walks in nature, remember that your loss is cyclical like the seasons. Even when we are in the depths of winter, we know that eventually it will become more manageable with the advent of summer. Learn to tolerate and pace yourself through the most severe times.

NOTE. This blog sets out a simple form of mindfulness sitting meditation.

See [in part] HUFFPOST LIVING  6 Mindful Strategies to Recover from the Shock of Loss
All Rights Reserved

IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via

Mindfulness and Youth Trauma
Mindfulness and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Monday, March 28, 2011


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may occur soon after a major trauma or it can be delayed for more than 6 months after the event. When the condition occurs soon after the trauma, it usually gets better after 3 months. However, some people have a longer-term form of PTSD, which can last for many years.

PTSD can occur at any age and can follow a natural disaster such as a flood or fire, or events such as war, a prison stay, assault, domestic abuse, or rape. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States of America may have caused PTSD in some people who were involved, in people who saw the disaster, and in people who lost relatives and friends. These kinds of events can produce stress in anyone, but not everyone develops PTSD.

“People take drugs to make their pain disappear, cut themselves, starve themselves, have sex once - you  have these horrible sensations just to make it go away," said Dr Bessel van der Kolk (pictured below), one of the world's leading trauma experts, on the topic during a recent conference on trauma and brain science at UCLA

"If these last long enough, your whole brain reacts. People learn to shut off the sensations in their bodies. We're also beginning to understand why traumatized people have such a hard time with mindfulness, because they cannot feel. People think trauma has something to do with out there. But the only thing that matters is now. Trauma is the residue of what those experiences leave in your body. It's the physical sensations that become intolerable, and you fight to make them go away."

The body - and not just the mind - contains memories, holds them, processes them in what ways it can, stores them and remembers them. As this memory storage develops, the neurons associated with the memory connect to other neural pathways in the body. The memories extend to other experiences. Seemingly unrelated events or situations can become triggers, for trauma does not exist in a relegated and circumscribed time and space continuum. Rather, it exists in the body and in the pathways it creates in the brain's neural networks.

It is now becoming increasingly clear that one effective way to deal with trauma is through the practice of mindfulness. The imprint of trauma lies in the central part of the brain. Being mindful helps untangle the sense of disorganization, or chaos, in the brain's relationship to itself. It helps re-establish coherent connections between the prefrontal cortex, which is the most "conscious" part of our brains, with the other, more primitive parts where trauma is stored, such as the limbic system. In short, the act of becoming more aware of each passing moment, with whatever emotions it contains, helps us control our emotional responses - which is what gets thrown out of line by trauma.

"Meditation and mindfulness can change all these things," van der Kolk said. "To feel yourself, to notice yourself."

Source: Oakland Effect: Why mindfulness matters

Scott Johnson Oakland Tribune
Posted: 03/27/2011 12:00:00 AM PDT All Rights Reserved

IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via

Thursday, March 24, 2011


¡Viva la Revolución!

Barry Boyce, senior editor for Shambhala Sun magazine, has edited a wonderful book appropriately entitled The Mindfulness Revolution … for there is indeed a revolution in consciousness taking place at the present time. Even boring old lawyers are in on it!

The evidence for the efficacy of mindfulness is abundant and very strong indeed. Since 1967 over 1,500 studies worldwide have been conducted by over 250 independent research institutes and centres showing mindfulness meditation to be clinically effective for the management of, among other things, stress, depression, anxiety and panic disorders, chronic pain, substance abuse, eating disorders, obsessional thinking, impulsivity, strong emotional reactivity and a wide array of other medical and mental health related conditions.

Anyone interested in mindfulness should obtain a copy of The Mindfulness Revolution. The book is a collection of the best writing on mindfulness from leading figures in the field. Selections include:

·         Jon Kabat-Zinn on the essence of mindfulness, stress reduction and positive change
·         Daniel Siegel MD on how mindfulness benefits the brain
·         Thich Nhat Hanh on the power of mindful breathing
·         Michael Carroll on mindfulness in the workplace
·         Pema Chödrön on developing compassion for ourselves and others
·         Daniel Goleman on a mindful approach to shopping and consuming
·         Jan Chozen Bays MD on mindful eating
·         Steve Silberman on being mindful online.

In one chapter of The Mindfulness Revolution Norman Fischer, principal meditation teacher at Google’s mindfulness program, makes the following suggestions to maintain mindfulness throughout the day:

Take three conscious breaths – just three! – from time to time to interrupt your busy activity with a moment or two of calm awareness.

Keep mindfulness slogan cards around your office or home to remind you to “Breathe” or “Pay Attention” or “Think Again.”

Train yourself through repetition to apply a phrase like “Is that really true?” to develop the habit of questioning your assumptions before you run with them.

Whenever you get up to walk somewhere during the day, practise mindful walking—noticing your weight as it touches the ground with each swing of your leg and footfall.

Institute the habit of starting your day by returning to your best intention, what you aspire to for yourself and others when you have a benevolent frame of mind.

Sound advice.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Karen Kissel Wegela (pictured opposite), the celebrated author of The Courage to Be Present: Buddhism, Psychotherapy, and the Awakening of Natural Wisdom, has been a core faculty member at the Buddhist-inspired Naropa University for more than 29 years, focusing on contemplative psychotherapy, and bringing together Buddhism and traditional psychotherapy. She has a private practice in Boulder, Colorado, and gives workshops and lectures nationally and internationally.

The author’s thesis is that what really helps most when we are aspiring to help others is our presence. We won't have any idea what will actually help until we connect with others and have a good sense of what their experiences are. In order to be fully present and connected with another person, we have to be willing to feel whatever comes up in our own experience.

For example, we may be with a friend who is going through a painful divorce. We might find that as we sit with the friend we begin to feel a lot of intense feelings ourselves. We might feel sadness, anger, or bewilderment. We could be "exchanging" with what the person is feeling in that moment. Alternatively, we could also have our own personal reactions to what the person is telling us. Maybe we've been through a divorce ourselves, or maybe our parents divorced when we were young, and listening to our friend brings up painful feelings of our own.

Even more commonly, when we want to be helpful, we don't have a clue what will help. Wegela says that the ability to stay present with not knowing, with uncertainty or even with feeling stupid is enormously valuable. It can be hard to stay present with those experiences of pain or not knowing. Sometimes we jump in prematurely with suggestions or stories of our own, just to get away from the discomfort we're feeling ourselves. Often when we do that, the other person doesn't feel heard or feels put off. They may even shut down and stop talking to us.

This ability to be present without pulling away from discomfort is mindfulness. It's easy to say, "Stay present," but it's actually quite difficult.

Wegela notes that we can practice bringing non-judgmental awareness to other kinds of activities, like sports, playing a musical instrument or cooking. In fact, anything that trains us to keep coming back to the present moment without judging what we find will help us become people who can be there for others.

Much has been written about the concept and practice of compassion.

Compassion can mean being willing to suffer with another. There is a closely related idea ... gentleness. Gentleness is a way of being kind to ourselves and others. It means letting go of the self-aggression and self-judgment that we in the West are so good at. We are often quite self-critical. It helps if we work with ourselves with the question, "Is there any way to be gentler with myself [or the other person] about this?"

We can train our ability to be gentle when we do our mindfulness practice. When we realize we've been caught up in thoughts, for example, we can gently return to the present moment, or to our breath, without adding any extra self-criticism or harshness.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Women with severe hot flushes (more commonly known in the USA as hot flashes, or night sweats if they happen at night) said their quality of life improved after taking mindfulness classes that included meditation and stretching exercises, according to a new study led by Dr James Carmody (pictured opposite).

The findings also suggest that such classes could help improve sleep quality, stress and anxiety in women during menopause.

All of this would be very good news for Bree Van de Kamp from Desperate Housewives. See this YouTube clip:

In 2002, the Women's Health Initiative study found that the hormone therapy used to relieve menopause symptoms increased women's risk of stroke and breast and ovarian cancers slightly. Since then, women who suffer from hot flashes and night sweats during menopause have been left with few ways to get relief.

"There's a broad range of attitudes about hot flashes and how they should be treated," Dr Ellen Freeman, a menopause expert at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia.

"There are certainly many, many women who don't want to take hormones ... and don't want to take other drugs either," said Freeman, who was not involved in the current study. Mindfulness, on the other hand, "may be something that they find very acceptable."

Women with frequent and severe hot flushes often also complain about anxiety and stress related to their symptoms, as well as trouble sleeping.

Researchers based at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester wanted to see if a teaching such women mindfulness, which has been shown to relieve stress, might help. They enrolled 110 women, nearly all of them white, with at least 5 or more bothersome hot flushes each day.

The women were randomly assigned to 2 groups. In one, participants went to weekly 2.5-hour mindfulness classes focusing on body awareness, meditation, and stretching. They also received CDs to guide them through mindfulness activities on their own on the days when they didn't have classes. Women in the second group, used for comparison, were put on a waiting list and had no mindfulness classes during the study, which lasted 8 weeks.

At the beginning of the study, the women had about 8 hot flushes a day and 3 night sweats each night, and were somewhere between "moderately" and "extremely" bothered by their symptoms, according to questionnaire responses. They also reported trouble sleeping and had anxiety and stress scores considered above the normal range in healthy people.

By the time they finished the mindfulness program, the women were less stressed and anxious and were no longer considered out of the normal range for those symptoms. They also slept better, rated their quality of life higher, and were less bothered by their hot flushes - an improvement that was still clear 3 months after women had completed the classes. At that point, the women were between "slightly" to "moderately" bothered by their hot flushes.

The women on the waitlist also got a little better, but didn't see as much improvement as those taking mindfulness classes.

Women in both groups had improvements in the intensity of their hot flushes, but women taking mindfulness classes did not improve any more than those on the waiting list according to the findings, which are published in the journal Menopause.

At the end of the program there was also no difference between the 2 groups in the frequency of their hot flushes. That suggests that these classes may be most useful for helping women cope with their hot flushes, rather than getting rid of the hot flushes themselves, the authors said.

The program presents a possibility for women with bothersome hot flushes who don't want to take hormones or medications such as antidepressants or over-the-counter treatments.

Here is a short YouTube clip attesting to the benefits during menopause of a stress relief program which includes meditation.

NOTE. This blog sets out a simple form of mindfulness sitting meditation.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via


Saturday, March 19, 2011


Here is a fascinating, illuminating article from the January-February 2011 edition of The Atlantic entitled “The Rise of the New Global Elite”.
There is no doubt that modern Western nations are governed, not by the elected few, but by a ruling unelected plutocracy whose members think only of their own self-interest. This is especially true of Australia and the United States of America.

Essentially, there are two blocs – the plutonomy and the rest. If you’re reading this blog it is almost certain that you, like me, are among “the rest” ... for a member of the plutonomy would not be interested in reading anything spiritual, assuming they can read. Naughty me, they can read, but their reading rarely extends beyond The Wall Street Journal, The Australian Financial Review and similar publications.
I love, although I derive little comfort from, these words of the iconoclastic American humorist and provocateur H L Mencken (pictured above):
“The plutocracy, in a democratic state, tends to take the place of the missing aristocracy, and even to be mistaken for it. It is, of course, something quite different. It lacks all the essential character of a true aristocracy: a clean tradition, culture, public spirit, honesty, courage – above all, courage. It stands under no bond of obligation to the state; it has no public duty; it is transient and lacks a goal … Its main character is its incurable timorousness; it is forever grasping at straws held out by demagogues … its dreams are of banshees, hobgloblins, bugaboos.”

Mencken was wrong. The members of the new global elite do not lack a goal, they are certainly not timid, and they do not grasp at straws. (It's the rest of us who grasp at straws.) They love money and all that it can buy, and they are prepared to go to any length to get what they want ... and woe betide anyone who stands in their way. "Don't mess with us!" is their war cry.

In today’s world there are indeed two blocs, but I think they are as follows – those who have committed themselves to leading a spiritual life (with the emphasis on “not-self” and others) ... and the rest.
I say that quite matter-of-factly, and without any sense of superiority.
Mindfulness is for those who seek a “power-not-oneself” ... even if that power and presence resides within us.



My blog entitled The King’s Speech, Stammering and Mindfulness, which has proved to be my most popular single-issue blog, has just been reposted as Speaking Without Stammering on the homepage of, published by Shambhala Sun, the leading Buddhist magazine.

Thank you, Shambhala Sun.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Mindfulness has become core curriculum at, among other places, Yarraman Oaks Primary School. This school in Noble Park, Victoria, Australia is just one of a growing number of Australian schools and colleges that have embraced the practice of mindfulness to improve focus and stress management.

Yarraman Oaks Principal Bill Liston was so taken with mindfulness after attending sessions by meditation teacher Janet Etty-Leal (pictured above, at Yarraman Oaks) at a principals' conference four years ago that he asked her to train his staff so they could run weekly sessions for all students.

"It is a lifetime strategy to help them cope with the day-to-day relationships with other children, with the pressure to achieve these days," he says. "It allows them to get things into perspective, and to do things in a calmer manner."

Sometimes the meditation sessions run at the start of school or after a break to help students to concentrate. Teachers also run shorter meditation sessions called "capsules" to break up two-hour classes.

Ms Etty-Leal has run mindfulness programs at more than 40 Victorian schools in recent years. She has also trained school principals, careers teachers and counsellors and Education Department staff, as well as running programs for healthcare professionals and for many companies, including Australia Post and Tattersall's.

Her recent book, Meditation Capsules, a mindfulness program for children, brings together the techniques she has taught in schools.

Dr Craig Hassed, deputy head of Monash University's department of general practice, has been teaching mindfulness techniques to trainee doctors and GPs since 1991. He also provides mindfulness training to staff and students at many Melbourne secondary schools, but particularly independent schools such as Carey Baptist Grammar, Melbourne Grammar, Geelong Grammar and St Michael's Grammar. Each week he flies to Canberra to run training sessions for staff at the Australian National University.

Other schools such as Methodist Ladies College are using mindfulness to help students focus during Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) study and exams.

Dr Hassed says Ms Etty-Leal has adapted mindfulness techniques for children so that the practice is taught through play, games and activities. "She has a special way with children."

Ms Etty-Leal says mindfulness is essential for primary-age children, particularly with the increasing incidence of syndromes such as attention deficit disorder. "If children are unable to settle and manage emotions such as anxiety, then they are not learning."

Children face many distractions, she says, such as mobile phones and digital technology, which makes it difficult to think deeply. "Neural pathways can become scrambled and less effective, which disrupts learning. When moments of sustained focus, silence and stillness become rare experiences, some children even find them uncomfortable, associating them with negative feelings such as boredom and disconnection."

South Australian psychologist Carmel Wauchope plans to use Ms Etty-Leal's meditation capsules as a base for her PhD research on the effect of mindfulness on adolescent anxiety and depression. She says at least 200 high school students will be tested before, during and after completing a meditation course based on Ms Elly-Leal's program.

Ms Wauchope trains her clients in mindfulness in her practice, Astute Education & Psychology Services. "I'm amazed by the results, particularly with young people with drug and alcohol issues. They say that meditation is better than using drugs because of the kind of space it puts them in, away from stressors. It is exceptionally useful for a range of situations."

NOTE. This blog sets out a simple form of mindfulness sitting meditation.











UPDATE. Justice Canada has since cancelled plans for the taxpayer-funded program, advising participants by email on 1 April 2011 that "due to circumstances beyond our control" the course was being postponed indefinitely, with no guarantee that it would ever be held. Carole Swindon, a spokeswoman for Justice Canada, has said the department "will be assessing next steps in due course." IEJ. 18 April 2011.

The federal
Justice Department of Canada is looking for mindfulness-based stress reduction treatment for its employees.

Senior officials have ordered two nine-week programs, in each official language, that "will help individuals to deal more effectively with difficult thought and emotions that can leave you feeling stuck in everyday life."

The program will stress "mindfulness," which the department describes as "the practice of paying attention to the present moment, with acceptance and compassion."

Total cost for the mindfulness-based stress reduction contract is set at more than $23,000 - plus other costs - with the possibility of additional sessions for more money. The official tender posting warns suppliers that "time is of the essence with this contract."

A spokeswoman said the department ran pilot programs in mindfulness for staff last fall, and found them effective.

"The beneficial effects of this program are well documented," Carole Saindon said in an email.

"The evaluation of the course demonstrates that all participants increased their ability to better cope with stress in the workplace.

"The need for effective tools to manage stress and promote mental health and the well being of employees in the workplace is widely recognized."

The Canadian Press
Date: Wednesday 16 March 2011 6:46 AM ET

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


"What is compassion?" asks Sogyal Rinpcohe. "It is not simply a sense of sympathy or caring for the person suffering, not simply a warmth of heart toward the person before you, or a sharp clarity of recognition of their needs and pain, it is also a sustained and practical determination to do whatever is possible and necessary to help alleviate their suffering."

As someone who has a close connection to Japan and its people by reason of my being a member of a Japanese Buddhist temple in Sydney, Australia and having many Japanese friends, I send my heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the people who have been affected by the earthquake which hit the north-eastern coast of Japan on 11 March 2011.

Unless it be unsafe to do so, I will be travelling to Japan next month, where I will offer spiritual consolation for those who have perished. [NOTE. It was not until June 2011 that I was able to make the trip to Japan.]

This web article from Shinnyo-en gives some information on the crisis and on what one Buddhist denomination is doing by way of response.

May the consolation, loving kindness and compassion of the Buddha heart radiate out to all who have suffered as well as to all who will continue to suffer in the days, weeks, months and years to come.