Friday, April 11, 2008

Mindfulness Conference - Worcester MA

6 am

The day begins with sitting, walking and stretching in present awareness led by Saki Santorelli. I am slowly letting the flight, the other things to do, the distractions leave the now - but they are persistent in creating "noise". I decide to practice accepting noise - I am more or less successful.

7 am

I am successful in finding friends and colleagues from Waterloo. I am delighted and we have breakfast together. This is a conference on the science of mindfulness and its relationship to healing arts. There is excitement here, a quiet anticipation we all feel about the power of this approach to relieve much suffering. Breakfast conversation is about how the community that this embraces is something like the ripples in a pond that spread ever further out from the centre. And today I am at one of the centres of the movement, the birthplace of MBSR; mindfulness-based stress reduction.

Keynote Address: Marsha Linehan

Dr. Linehan spoke eloquently about her career as a behavioural therapist, scientist and student of Zen and how this led her to the developmental of dialectical behaviour therapy
Her work has been with some of the most troubled individuals, those who have received as diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, people who she points out are the most likely of all psychological disorders to succeed at suicide. One in every ten people with BPD will take their own life.
Using a mindfulness-based approach Linehan invites her clients to practice the art of acceptance in their lives. Clinically sound and scientifically validated over 30 years, her approach offers the most hopeful of all treatment modalities for this complex human response to betrayal trauma, abuse and neglect in childhood.

I found Dr. Linehan to be full of energy, realistic and the embodiment of compassion. As Saki Santorelli described her, "She is a force of nature".

Research Sessions:

Ruth Baer

Ruth Baer has been interested in cognitive therapy and has written an important work that reviews the effectiveness of mindfulness based interventions. Her discussion today was on the relationship between formal mindfulness practice, informal mindfulness activities and psychological wellbeing.

Donald McCown and Diane Reibel

Donald and Diane presented a compelling story about their attempt to market an MBSR program to train people in various workplaces how to reduce stress and to respond as people and as corporations in a more "contemplative" manner. While their program didn't get the funding needed from the university, their were able to run a scaled-down version of the offerings to some pretty impressive organizations. They reported that they are happy doing work they love in the not-for-profit sector.

One of their training programs has been offered to anaesthesia nurses, perhaps the most stressful of all nursing jobs. Students in the course learned methods of being more aware, less stressed and more at ease with themselves with the workplace. I found this talk quite relevant to my work teaching psychology to nursing students

Donald Marks, Alix Sarubbi and Rosanna Sposato

What role does compassion play in healing? There is little doubt that it is significant. Marks et al. presented their research on the relationship between the relief of suffering and active compassion. The results of their work can be summed up by the story Donald told of a woman, so debilitated by pain that she was unable to get out of one particular chair in her house. To add to the suffering, she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer of the spine. This woman, with the help of Marks and his team, was able to do something she'd wanted to do for a long time - volunteer at the school attended by her disabled daughter. The times when she was volunteering, the pain she suffered was less meaningful to her than what she had to offer the children. During these times the pain, became a background in her life, rather than the entire focus of her existence.

As a closing, Mark took us through a mindfulness session where we were encouraged to embody in ourselves "the perfect nurturer". It is from this base of compassion, we are told, that we are able to extend healing into the world.

Day's end:

Today has been busy and exceptional. At the end of the day we had a banquet and danced to the type of music that Geoff Johnstone loves. (Hope you had an ale or two for me on Thursday, brother). Wish all of you could have been here, there is much that is of interest to Liberal Studies folks; culture, philosophy, communications, sociology, economics, psychology, wellness and history to name a few. Even some comparative religion, like how the message of the Buddha and Christ and all religions has been the same since the earliest times - a compassionate heart is the key to peace that begins with ourselves.

As they say here:

metta (lovingkindness):

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