2012-11-26

The Inevitable and the Optional

Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness-based stress reduction – MBSR – is an approach originally pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn for helping hospital patients deal with pain. Don't reject the pain – for rejection comes from fear of the pain, and fear exacerbates the pain. Instead, sink into the pain with full acceptance. Bring all your attention to the sensation itself. Simply be present to the sensation as the sensation is present to you. In that simple presence, the stuff the cingulate cortex adds about how much it all hurts tends to fade. With practice.

Research psychologist David Creswell has reviewed the many studies on MBSR and its effect on pain. Creswell says:
“Just by simply observing and noticing how you’re responding, you are actually enlisting resources to regulate that response.”
Bob Stahl, the founder and director of MBSR programs at three San Francisco-area medical centers, adds:
“Learning to be with pain may feel counterintuitive, but it’s a fundamental step in healing. Rather that investing your energy in fighting or resisting pain, learn to go with it. This is an ancient wisdom that goes back to the Buddha, who taught that whenever there is resistance to what is, there’s suffering.”
Whenever there is resistance to what is, there's suffering. Or, as is often heard at the Friday night practice of the Dancing Crane Zen Center:
“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”
Psychiatrist Dan Siegel has found that mindfulness practices produces structural changes in the brain. Mindfulness:
  1. cultivates approach state;
  2. improves the immune system;
  3. enhances stability and clarity;
  4. helps OCD, borderline personality disorder, drug addiction, depression;
  5. improves empathy and reduces burnout.
Being mindful, the ego, and all its desires that are at the center of the brain’s fictional story, comes to be joined by an observing self that doesn’t pretend to want this, or be averse to that, or to have intended to do what you find yourself doing. This observing self is open and accepting, tuned-in, and curious about the experiencing self.
“MBSR has been taught to hundreds of thousands of people. Some 85 percent of them report that the practice has healed them in some way.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn says,
“My working definition of healing is coming to terms with things as they are.”
Healing is coming to terms with things as they are.

Judith Lief has been working for 20 years with mindfulness in her hospice work with dying patients. She has also found that mindfulness heightens our empathy and our connectedness with one another:
“The feedback I get from people being cared for by someone practicing mindfulness is that they feel seen as people, apart from the medical or mental problem.”
And writer Carolyn Rose Gimian concludes:
“Unless we can make friends with what occurs in our life, we are simply subject to circumstances and controlled by them.”
Carnegie Hall, New York City
"Make friends with what occurs in our life." Without control, without desire or aversion, with acceptance and the simple gift of presence, befriend each instant that presents itself. In bringing the gift of ourselves, our presence, we thereby become who we really are – not the story that ego is constantly fabricating.

You are not your thoughts, remember. You are, however, in this very moment, right here and right now, perfect, and beautiful, and whole just as you are. You are not a separated bundle of attachment, clinging to what is always flowing away from you, resisting what is always flowing toward you. You are, with everything, One.

How can you know that, down in your bones?
The same way you get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.

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This is part 5 of 5 of "Making Peace with Your Brain"
Previous: Part 4: "You Post Facto Fabricator, You!"
Beginning: Part 1: "Your Brain Is Out to Get You"