“Watch Your Friends”

That’s today’s challenge on my mindful awareness app. But it’s not a paranoid “watch your friends,” it’s a re-see your friends. The challenge is worded “Today, look at your friends like you are seeing them for the very first time. Rediscover them. What makes a person a friend? Can you be friends with the stranger passing on the street?”

So I’m several hours into my day, and am realizing how hard this is to do. I have seen friends/students/colleagues all day, and I clearly bring a set of responses to the interactions with them that are based on history. My feelings in approaching (or not) the people around me are often tinged with emotion based on specific past interactions. Obviously, this is in some ways adaptive–my whole dissertation was on issues related to automatic cognitive processing in social contexts–but at the same time, I see how it is constraining, and how it tends to encourage relationships to stay stuck in ruts. My body language in encountering someone I know certainly is likely to trigger their complementary response.

I guess I am saying that this could be a really useful practice for me to adopt–since a calm, welcoming openness to who someone is in a given moment would likely be a great invitation to a positive interaction. Yeah, ok, this mindfulness stuff is cool. The irony is that I am typing this 5 minutes from teaching a personality class, which would certainly typically send my processing of people in the other direction by default.

When I first looked at the challenge this morning, I actually responded sort of negatively to it. I think it was related to the question about what makes a friend, which feels like it could pull me into a lot of analysis. But coming back to it now, I’m even a little more open to that part. Joining it with the last question, it begs an open curious attitude about what concepts like “friend” or “not friend” do in terms of foreclosing options for interactions with people. Or at least that is how I am viewing it right now.

And my humorous response to the last part, was “well, yeah if you are as ADHD and almost hypomanic as me, probably so….”

In general, I am liking downloading this app. I have set it to go off a few times a day, and I like being pulled out of whatever I’m doing briefly to refocus and breathe. I actually may set it to go off more frequently.

I’m also getting very excited about the journey I will be taking with my students as we try to become a more mindful group this semester. I’m easing them (and me) into it slowly, but in the weeks leading up to their somewhat stressful qualifying exams, they will be doing some serious daily meditating, and I’m hoping that it will actually be grounding for them at that point in their graduate experience.

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Clearly I am much better at reading and blogging about it than I am at meditating and blogging about it. However, in my new world as supervisor of graduate student therapists in training, I am trying to reform. My students will be taking a course covering 4 approaches to psychotherapy this term, and one of them is mindfulness-based therapy. They are about to become meditators in a big way for at least 15 weeks. I am hoping that I will do better with the blog in this context. I wanted to start by sharing a few sites and apps that my students will be using in their journey. Since they are broke grad students, I wanted to minimize the expense to them, or at least keep it sane, so I have sought out some free audio to guide their daily practice, and some free apps for them to use if they want. I will be working along with them and trying to find time to share the journey with my blog readers.

The first site I wanted to share with you is a resource for the free audio. There are a variety of types of meditation audio files available there, including body scans, sitting meditations, guided imagery, and timed silent meditations with bells at various intervals.

Another way to get the bells, if you want them, is to download an app. This is the one I have on my phone. I keep reminding myself that it really does work as well as the pricey bells and bowls you can also purchase, and it is much easier to keep with you.

I also like things that help me be mindful throughout the day. I have just downloaded this app, which give you a new mindful awareness challenge each day, and allows you to schedule reminders and also to post to social networks if you want. I will let you know how it goes. Today’s challenge is simply to stop and focus on the experience of existing, and trying to separate that from the narrative about oneself and one’s life.

See you soon? Hopefully!

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Belated update

So apparently doing the homework for class is taking time away from blogging! I thought I would finally sit down and update this with my reflections so far.

Things I have discovered:
1) I’m not very physically tense most of the time. A lot of the meditation instructions involve noticing tension in the body. I don’t seem to have too much. That is a nice thing.
2) I’m not very stressed. In the homework to reflect on the experience of stressful events, I’m having trouble coming up with too many. The ones I do have, though, seem to be mostly generated by making negative predictions about things that haven’t happened yet. That is a very useful thing to realize.
3) My house is not very quiet when it is “quiet.” When I sit to do my homework after my 3 year old goes to bed, I discover that my husband’s quiet activities, the dog snoring, and the cat’s movements, along with the noises of the house itself are really a lot of noise!
4) I have a certain level of resistance to the idea of sitting for 20 to 40 minutes in silence. I often sit down with reluctance at first, although I often really enjoy the practice when I do it.
5) When my mind wanders, it often goes to work or to the future (or to the future at work).
6) I really want to use my bulldog as a meditation anchor.

I’m really enjoying the course and the practice overall. I continue to think that I had done more, between my group and cognitive therapy training and my prior meditation practice, to prepare for this than I had given myself credit for. I really am not starting at the starting line the way I expected.

I’ll try to do better updating this in the coming weeks!

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Class Day 1

Tonight we started our class. I’ve been really excited about it since I registered a few weeks ago, but as the time approached, little waves of ambivalence started to wash over me. I started to really get that I had committed myself not just to going to a cool class, but to 45 minutes of practice every day that we aren’t in class. That is not a small time commitment. Especially if I want to do it at a time that I’m not sleepy. Hmmm, I’m not sure such a time exists. And I started to wonder whether I will “have to” give up reading time that I’m really enjoying these days. Of course it is something I’m choosing–so it is more a question of whether I will choose to give up reading time or blogging time or sleeping time in order to have the regular practice time that I am sure that I need in order to make this a habit I can continue beyond the 8 week course. In a way, I’m glad that the ambivalence did come out, since I’d be a little suspicious of too blind an enthusiasm going into this.

So class: It’s 2 and a half hours with a little break. Tonight was sort of going over the map of the territory–what we are committing to, what we will be doing, who is in the class, and so on. And it included one longer period of sitting meditation, and 2 little rounds of a practice called “20 Breaths.”

The instructor is a medical doctor at Penn who also teaches the course to med students, nurses, interns, etc. One thing I have noticed is that people who do mindfulness in a serious way seem to have a lovely way about them. They really do the accepting, non-judgmental thing without seeming syrupy. There is a light touch about them, that I really like. I’ve seen it in some Buddhist monks from Asia and in mindfulness trainers here. I really value the ability to bring that stance to the world and to interactions with people. I hope that it is a matter of the training cultivating this spirit in people, rather than a matter of people who are already that way being the ones who stick with it. It is a way I would like to be able to be more often in the world. We will have to ask people in my world whether the course helps me become more of this sort of person (Husband, you get to chime in in the comments section on this as we get to the end of the training)!

I noticed a few things tonight. One is that I don’t give myself credit as I should for getting somewhere with earlier self-directed attempts to train myself in meditation. I actually am better at being in the moment in a sitting meditation than I was years ago. My mind wasn’t particularly jumping around in two of the three practice exercises we did tonight. Things that have at times been hard (like breathing in anything like a natural way when focusing on breathing) came easier tonight than I expected them to. Equally interesting was the exception. The last practice we did before the end of the class, I had already begun to let the future leak in. I was thinking about whether most people parked in the lot I did, whether the door would be unlocked on that side, a few other things (all in the course of 20 breaths!). Oh and I breathe faster when I’m distracted like this. All interesting info for me to be aware of. I want to keep an eye on the pull to prematurely move to the next thing I’m going to be doing when I’m in other contexts. It feels like I’m more vulnerable to inattention as transitions approach.

The other thing I’m noticing is that it is worth listening to instructions for the practices multiple times. I seem to focus on or understand the instructions in a different way at different times.

So where am I a little over an hour after the first class? I’m still excited and curious, but in a calmer more focused way than before the class started. I’m a little intimidated by the commitment, but not to the degree that I feel any urge to avoid. Rather I have some energy to get down to work, and to plan how to incorporate this new piece into the minutia of my day. I’m curious, for example, whether doing the 20 breaths exercise (which we are to do 4 times a day) might be a nice transition between patients, to help me be more fully done with the prior experience and more fully present for the coming one. I will experiment with that this week and see what it is like.

So just to give a sense of what we are doing, the homework this week is a 29 minute sitting meditation daily, plus 4 rounds of 20 breaths daily, plus several chapters of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living, which is the book I read forever ago, that inspired me to search for a class like this that I could commit to. It will be fun to reread it now!

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How to quieten down the mind | Mindfulbalance Blog

I am borrowing today’s post from a mindfulness blog that I have found and love.  I think that I will need to use this post and re-read several times to let it sink in. It seems the essence of meditation.

How to quieten down the mind

Posted on January 18, 2011 by Karl Duffy

Sit where it is quiet and close your eyes: the natural inclination to make contact will bring up mental images characterized by feelings. These will most likely be taken as aspects of yourself and you’ll find various reactions occurring and you will get busy, sitting still. However, the practice of sitting quietly with your eyes closed in meditation is useful in that, with steady attention, you can realize that all of this mental stuff is something that can be watched, and that it is therefore a series of objects – not the subject, the self. You only experience contact because of feelings and perceiving something. And since what is felt or perceived must always be an object, how can you ever contact a true subject, or self? This understanding in itself takes some of the drama out of the show, and the mind stops feeding on contact, it steps back into balance and quiets down.

Ajahn Sucitto, Turning the Wheel of Truth

via How to quieten down the mind | Mindfulbalance Blog.

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Looking outward (via Mindfulbalance Blog)

As I begin this journey, I’ve looked around for others blogging on the topic. I found a blog by a mindfulness trainer named Karl Duffy. This is one of today’s posts, which I really like.

Looking outward Each time we reach out with joy, each time we cast our view towards distances that have not yet been touched, we transform not only this the present moment and the one following but also alter the past within us, weave it into the pattern of our existence, and dissolve the foreign body of pain whose exact composition we ultimately do not know. Just as we do not know how much vital energy this foreign body, once it has been thus dissolved, might i … Read More

via Mindfulbalance Blog

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So the logical question about my journey is “Why?” What motivates me to commit substantial time and money to getting 8 weeks of relatively intensive training (there will be homework of meditating for a lengthy stretch daily, I think) in Mindfulness?

I’ve been reading about Mindfulness for years, starting with reading and getting the tapes for Jon Kabat-Zinn’s
Full Catastrophe Living years ago. I’m not actually sure how I found out about the book. Kabat-Zinn has done some amazing work with people with chronic pain, stress, and other difficulties at U Mass Medical School. For people that the medical community can’t otherwise do much for, his meditation training has been a godsend. He teaches people to live in and around the “catastrophe” rather than fighting against it, and as a result, gives them back a greatly enhanced quality of life. More recently, some pretty substantial research has shown that mindfulness meditation is one of the best ways to prevent relapse in Major Depression. You can read a little more about this in a recent Wall Street Journal article, and if you really want to go nuts following the research, you can subscribe to this research update. So that is part A.

Part B is that I can’t do this by myself. My ADHD brain/life is not easily disciplined. In fact, there are ways in which the ADHD brain is the antithesis of the mindful brain. It likes to hop around wildly and multitask. For example, I tried to just wash dishes awhile ago with my focus just on washing the dishes. Not counting the interruptions by the 3 year old munchkin who is home cause she had a fever yesterday, but is plenty perky today, I still couldn’t maintain it for more than one item in a row. I tended to start narrating this blog entry in my head as I washed. I did discover that I just really like my cool yellow blown-glass wine glass. Maybe if I washed dishes more mindfully on a regular basis, we would still have the matching green one… In the larger scheme, I’m great at starting things with intense enthusiasm, and then I tend to let them drop without finishing them (evidence of this lingers in my home in the form of the various craft supplies I’ve acquired but not finished things with). So getting a mindfulness practice securely integrated into my life wasn’t happening with just me and some tapes. And the research says you can’t help patients learn this stuff unless you really do it yourself. So professionally, not just personally, the course feels like a really important step.

On the application, I had to answer the “why” question. You could give 3 answers. I wrote the obvious one first. I want to develop a mindfulness practice. My second answer was that I thought it would help me manage my own tendencies toward anxiety and depression. My third was that I thought it could make me a better wife and mom. Who couldn’t benefit from having a mom/spouse more there in the moment with him or her, right? I’m actually very curious to see what types of things will change in subtle ways with a more mindful approach to my life. I’ll keep you guys posted!

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I’m getting really excited about beginning the training. I’ve told several people, including an alum of the program, and they have sounded almost as excited as I am. To keep this blog current, I’m also joining the wordpress Post-a-Week2011 Challenge, so expect updates on this site at least weekly about how things are going during and after the class!

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Reflections on a journey

At the end of this month, I will begin a course in Mindfulness Meditation Training.  It is something I have wanted to do for a very long time, and I am finally finding a way to make the logistics work. I approach the journey with excitement, because I know that this training can be tremendously useful, but also with apprehension, because I have never been able to stick with any sort of meditation practice in the past.  I’m a typical ADHD person–I get really excited about stuff, but don’t always manage to follow through.  So it will be interesting to see whether this training will fall victim to that pattern, or conversely, if it will help me to stick with the other things in my life.

Speaking of which: my other passions/hobbies will be featured in widgets on the sides of the page. I’m an avid reader and bookcrosser (secret fear: meditation will cut into my reading time–which I have just reclaimed from other mindless activities like tv watching and facebook games), and you can see my goodreads feed in a widget on the right.  You can look at my bookcrossing shelf to see what books I’m reading and releasing to the wild.  I’m a newly addicted geocacher–it’s treasure hunting of a sort using GPS, and I find it a good excuse to get out and explore.  A lot of caches are stashed in places with interesting histories/stories, like the nearby former missle silo (!!!), so it is a fun way to learn about the region as well. You can check it out, along with my profile (cachebether) through the link. I’m also a runner/walker, having completed 4 full marathons and half a dozen halfs. I’m registered for 2 more in the coming months, but haven’t run since Thanksgiving, which does not bode well for my next race. Secret hope: mindfullness will help with the running. I’m hoping I can make a widget for my running log to put here too, to keep me accountable.

Pleased to meet you, readers, and please share any reflections you have on meditation or my sidebar interests!

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