Compassion – the key to happiness

In today’s world, anyone might think that gaining material possessions is the key to happiness. Adverts on the television, at the cinema, at bus stops, on the internet constantly tell us that all we need to do is buy this appliance, get that product, wear these clothes or eat this food and we’ll have the perfect life and live happily ever after. But once we buy whatever they’re selling, we’re then told we need the latest version, an upgrade or the most up to date fashion – then we’ll be happy! And so it goes on… And if you can win the lottery, well that would be your life sorted forever, surely?!

So make sure you’re in a position to buy and have whatever you want, then you’ll be happy.

Or will you?

Research actually suggests that it’s not in what we receive that we have the most happiness but actually in what we give. As long as our basic needs are met and we are able to live relatively comfortably, then very little after that counts.

MRI scans show that those parts of the brain that are responsible for feeling pleasure when we receive things are equally active when we give, if not more so.

If we suffer symptoms of anxiety and depression, it often points to the fact that we are focusing a lot of our thoughts on ourselves, and usually negatively – what has happened already or what we think might happen in the future; everything that has gone wrong or might go wrong. When we start to shift a little of the focus towards others and what we might be able to do for them then our perceived levels of happiness and well-being actually increase.

Even doing a very simple act of kindness, for example, letting someone in front of you in the line of traffic, holding a door open for the person that’s following, or even smiling at a stranger as you pass them by in the street can have an effect – by carrying out these simple acts you’re putting someone else first; another way to think of it is that you’re showing them a very basic level of love and compassion.

And we all want to be loved, do we not?

And someone else putting us first helps us to feel this. In the same way, when we put someone else first it makes us feel good – no matter how small that act of kindness might be.

A favourite mindfulness meditation is called Loving Kindness. This involves a focus, firstly, on ourselves, offering ourselves a little love, good health and well-being. Sometimes we forget how important we are in our own lives! Then the focus shifts gently to someone we love, again offering them some loving thoughts in our imagination. After this we are asked to focus our attention on someone whom we have perhaps seen that day but don’t know very well – perhaps someone who served us at the shop or someone we saw at the bus stop. Again, we attend to them in our thoughts wishing them well in health and happiness. And lastly, and perhaps this is the most difficult part of the meditation, we offer those same loving thoughts and good wishes to someone whom we perhaps have difficulty with, offering them the same compassion we did with ourselves and our loved ones.

In this way, through a very simple meditation practice, we perform a very gentle form of ‘self-psychotherapy’ in which some kind of healing may take place.

So, compassion may just be the key to happiness!

By Rachel Broomfield

A Mindful Approach to Coaching

I find mindfulness to be very useful component of my performance coaching work and I’d like to share a little about using it to greatly increase our chances of successful coaching outcomes.

Flow State

We can probably all remember times when we were totally absorbed in something, perhaps eating a particularly delicious meal or being completely fascinated by an exciting novel which we found so difficult to put down.

For years I really enjoyed running and I, like many runners, found myself getting into a state of absorbed exhilaration where I felt, once I had overcome the pain threshold, as if I could just keep on running. This is often described as being in the flow. Artists will usually be familiar with flow state and it won’t be very hard for them to focus on the choreography of a ballet in which they are dancing or a sculpture which they are creating. However, in our lives generally, it is not so easy to remain in present focus when engaged in our ordinary, everyday activities. Isn’t it all too simple to slip into worrying about future events or feel guilty or stressed about something in the past, instead of allowing ourselves to truly appreciate or enjoy our present activity.

How can mindfulness be an effective part of coaching?

Curiosity

As a performance coach a good dose of curiosity can achieve wonders at times. It can be argued that one of the key skills of coaches is to be able to somehow get our clients to think! – and to think in a creative way ‘outside the box’. That’s why ‘GROW’ model options questions like ‘what other options do you think you have?’ and ‘if anything were possible, what would you do?’ and even perhaps when things are getting stuck, ‘if you did know the answer, what would it be?!’, can be most helpful in developing ‘way forward’ options.

Mindfulness can help us to develop curiosity particularly with a kind of non-judgemental reflection. Have you noticed how, when you reflect on something that you have written, maybe your journal or notes for some forthcoming event, in a fairly quiet, distraction free (almost meditative) state that real inspiration can come to mind?

The essence of curiosity can be found in ‘enquiry’ type ‘powerful’ questions in coaching. The sort of questions that, the answer to which, may have a real impact on the coaching issue. The answer to these sort of questions, such as ‘how can you identify what is really holding you back?’ may not immediately find an answer at a conscious level. The client may need to reflect and let it settle quietly before an answer comes to mind. The mindfulness body scan exercise, mentioned earlier can be helpful here.

Beginner’s mind

One of the most quoted attitudes/principles of mindfulness is known as beginner’s mind. Rather than responding to events in the way we always have before – rather than thinking and doing in the way we always have before, just supposing we were able to see things as if we were looking through a completely new pair of eyes.

In a coaching exercise I was carrying out with a female client, she (let’s call her Gill) had been struggling to come to terms with a very troubling relationship, over many years, with her only sister. Gill described their relationship as close, an intense struggle of willpower and, in Gill’s opinion, a desire by her sister to be dominant over Gill.

In one of our coaching sessions Gill wanted to focus on reality and what this meant in her relationship. I asked Gill to carry out a gestalt – empty chair drama exercise with her talking to the empty chair and imagining she was talking to her sister and then take the empty chair herself, imagining that she was her sister and talking back to her (Gill). This is a useful and sometimes powerful way of gaining clarification on core values.

Gill really struggled to respond in the role of her sister and I suggested a shift in emphasis with Gill immersing herself in a gentle meditative exercise with something I adapted from the ‘loving kindness’ meditation. I got Gill to start by focussing on her breathing and then direct positive feelings towards herself, making some positive affirmations such as ‘May I be well and happy’,’ May I gain clarification and understanding’ and ‘May my sister and I be happy’. Gill chose the affirmations. After this she directed positive feelings towards her sister, again with affirmations of a similar nature. Lastly Gill directed positive feeling towards herself and her sister with affirmations such as ‘May my sister and I be well and happy’, May we gain understanding of each other’ and ‘May we understand each other’s needs’.

Through the course of this exercise, which took over 30 minutes, Gill found that she started to develop much more positive feelings about resolving her relationship problems. We then went back into the gestalt, empty chair process and this time Gill found it much easier to answer, in the role of her sister, her concerns over their relationship. This proved to be a defining moment in Gill being able to resolve her difficulties with her sister.

Presence

Our presence in the coaching relationship may be considered as one of coaching’s core competencies. Just how genuinely present are we in that relationship? What does being present mean?

Staying present really means letting go of our awareness of ourselves so that we become more aware of our client. Conversely if we start to become more aware of ourselves, within the coaching conversation, perhaps thinking about how we look, how we are sounding, letting any of our own personal thoughts intrude, then we decrease our awareness of our client. When this happens then we start to listen less effectively and we are less likely to perceive non-verbal information so we are unable to check out congruence in communication. We actually become less conscious of the whole coaching process.

So, presence may be thought of as something which all of us in our profession believe we have a natural aptitude for, rather like an ability to build rapport. That doesn’t mean to say however that we can’t become even more effective if we work at it.

Being truly present is actually a very joyful state to be in. When we feel we are at one in the moment but at the same time unattached to the outcome, it is as if we are somehow connected to some kind of source of inspiration. We can truly be in a state of ‘flow’ where everything seems effortless, and where we are open to all possibilities.

Mindfulness, although it sounds very similar to presence, is in fact the way to achieve it, in my opinion. Our mindfulness practice can help us to feel centred and whole. It can help us to be fully aware of ourselves, mentally and physically and to then let go of that awareness. The body scan meditation can provide a wonderfully detached/dissociated feeling that is ideal practice for being present in coaching.

Why EQ can be more important than IQ and how the practice of mindfulness can help to develop Emotional Resilience

Emotional intelligence (EI) can be thought of as the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups. Having a high level of emotional intelligence can be far more useful in helping us to have a happy, healthy and stable life, than any amount of traditional, cognitive – problem solving intelligence (IQ).

In 1983, Howard Gardner’s ‘Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences’, introduced the idea of multiple intelligences which included both interpersonal intelligence (the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people) and intrapersonal intelligence (the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one’s feelings, fears and motivations). In Gardner’s view, traditional types of intelligence, such as IQ, fail to fully explain cognitive ability.

Although the concept of EI was introduced in the 1920s, it was popularised by Daniel Goleman’s 1995, best-selling self-help book ‘Emotional Intelligence’. Here, Goleman focuses on EI as a wide array of competencies and skills (mixed model) that contribute significantly to our ability to ‘succeed’ in life, to be self-motivated, emotionally resilient and to relate successfully to others.

A couple of years ago I worked with a client who, from a very early age was academically brilliant, a national chess champion at 10 years old, gained a scholarship to a top public school, gained a science 1st at Cambridge and went on to become a highly successful and respected academic. Her issues in consulting me were that she was unable to form close personal relationships, loneliness and social phobia which meant she was finding it very difficult to function other than in her university laboratory. She really seemed to have no life at all outside her work and was starting to become very negative.

I started a process of helping my client to explore in an open and honest way, her negative emotional states and to begin a self-healing process that I call ‘natural healing’. This involves examining what it is that you really want in life and formulating a plan to move towards it. At the same time finding ways to admit and to express to yourself the truths and the hurt of the present reality. Natural therapy also involves accepting and forgiving yourself and others. Its tools include gaining and changing perspective, laughter and relaxation both in the form of self-hypnosis and mindfulness meditation.

Successful therapy is always a collaboration between therapist and client and learning the skills of emotional resilience is no exception. I like to think of therapy as a process of teaching the client, rather than doing something to the client. Clients learn, over the course of a few sessions, how to let go of unwanted feelings, interrupt unwanted emotional patterns and learn ways of cultivating nourishing emotions such as curiosity, excitement, flexibility, confidence and determination, as well as gratitude and appreciation.

Scientific research has demonstrated that people engaged in mindfulness practice over a period of 6 to 8 weeks boosted their resilience ‘scores’ by more than 38%. The results were very clearly demonstrated and participants stated that they felt happier, with more energy and less stress than before the programme. They also reported that they started to identify challenges as opportunities rather than threats and had a higher level of optimism.

In his trainings Anthony Robbins describes ways of ‘mastering your emotions’ which I’ve found very beneficial in teaching emotional resilience. I ask my clients to focus on a number of key steps:

  1. Identify just what the emotion is, and what it’s telling them that they need to act on.
  2. Clarify just what message the emotion contains and whether they need to change their perception of it, or their behaviours in respect of it.
  3. Recall a previous experience of this emotion which they managed to successfully overcome. Recall the success state and anchor it.
  4. Experiment with imagining different ways of dealing with this emotion until they find one that works well – then take action!

There will be times when clients are locked into patterns of emotional trauma where it appears that there is no way out. In that situation nowhere feels safe and nothing feels any good. Life loses its sparkle and often people experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have frequent upsetting flashbacks of traumatic memories which just seem to come ‘out of the blue’.

The most successful ways of helping clients with emotional trauma seem to come from the category of approaches that can best be described as mind/body interventions which employ a kinaesthetic , sensory input. These are described by Dr Ronald Ruden in his book ‘When The Past is Always Present’ as ‘psychosensory therapy’, and it includes his ground breaking approach ‘Havening ™’. These kinds of approaches can be described as truly holistic and I’ve found that EFT and EMDR can be particularly helpful. The most recent development in this field is Kevin Laye’s Psy Tap, which seems to be achieving remarkable results.

EI and Resilience Building is part of the syllabus of the UK College, accredited mindfulness teacher training course – run on a regular basis.

Becoming a Mindfulness Teacher

Why would we want to?

The rapid growth in mindfulness based interventions (MBIs) in recent years has created a healthy demand for teachers of mindfulness. John Kabat Zinn’s 1991 book ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ documented the birth of the Stress Reduction Clinic at The University of Massachusetts Medical Centre and the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme which is one of many MBIs taught world-wide. The book made the principles and methods of clinical mindfulness accessible to a very wide public audience.

Kabat Zinn’s work was given a substantial boost when he, and his MBSR programme were featured on the Bill Moyers ‘Healing and the Mind’ USA television series in 1993, which was subsequently syndicated word-wide. From that point on, interest in the therapeutic use of mindfulness grew dramatically amongst healthcare professionals, creating a demand for teachers.

The interest has showed no sign of waning and the huge amounts of positive publicity which mindfulness has received in recent years, along with the wealth of scientific studies supporting its use, combined with an endorsement by NICE, has meant an increased demand for mindfulness teaching, and therefore, for qualified teachers.

How can we learn?

Mindfulness has been taken up by higher academic institutions in the UK and in consequence, a number of universities, including Oxford and The University of Wales, in Bangor offer higher academic, post-graduate, Master’s Degree / post graduate programmes. This traditional, long-term qualification route, comprehensive and excellent though it is, is not only outside the reach of many who wish to teach others mindfulness, but may also not provide the practical skills for everyday teaching. Other (vocational) training providers, including the UK College of Mindfulness Meditation, offer brief, externally accredited courses which combine intensive practical training with the provision of underpinning knowledge, assessed via case study work and written assignments.

What Makes an Excellent Mindfulness Teacher?

In our mindfulness teacher training courses I’m often asked this question and here I endeavour to give my brief views on some of the qualities that make the difference between just being a mindfulness teacher, and being an outstanding one, as well as providing some pointers for ongoing success.

The reasons why we wish to become a mindfulness teacher may give us a useful pointer – the most valid perhaps being a passion for our own sustained mindfulness practice and a strong’ heartfelt desire to share it with others, when our natural enthusiasm may well shine through and transmit itself to our learners.

Perhaps we might start to examine our teaching practice, if we are already doing that, and elicit from our clients / learners how they feel about learning from us. That way we at least stand a chance of getting better by our old age! Mindfulness teaching should, of course be assessed and a standard, client-administered assessment such as Bristol University’s MYMOP gives us a chance to gain data which can help construct our own evidence base.

Be yourself – don’t try and be someone else

At times I’ve sat with a teacher who has appeared to be trying to get into a role; in other words, trying to be their role model. To me this never comes over in an authentic way. If you try and be someone else, people will see through you and may well not respect you. I’ve learned from some of the world’s most respected mindfulness teachers, but I’m not them. I’d like to think that I bring by own unique experience and perspective, and you will do this also.

Be warm and engaging

Developing rapport between you and your clients / learners is something which it pays giving close attention to. Those who are drawn to mindfulness and mindfulness teaching are likely to be the kind of people who have a natural warmth and empathy with others. There is evidence that people respond to those teachers and therapists who they like and who they believe are open to them, as opposed to coming across as cold and indifferent. The interesting thing is that even if the skills of the less engaging teacher are superior to the more engaging one, the more engaging teacher will be perceived as being superior and effective. So be nice!

Be humble – you don’t have all the answers

One of my personal heroes in field of personal development is the Canadian, Brian Tracy who has been right at the top of his field for many years. He has positively influenced many thousands of people, world-wide’ through his training courses, on-line videos and books. Despite all his wisdom he is one of the modest people who I have met. He is always happy to admit that he does not have all the answers and he suggests that rather than telling people that you are right, it may be more helpful to say to them ‘I may be wrong – I often am’!

I’ve borrowed this phrase along the way and it seems to work well for me, in fact so much so that my wife Carmel who has heard me say it so often, now sometimes uses it against me by saying ‘you may be wrong – you often are’! I can’t win can I!

Keep it simple – stupid (KISS)

I’m sure that I won’t be alone in sometimes sitting in a class where the teacher (and yes I am deliberately using simple language here) uses language which appears to be more designed to complicate and confuse, rather than make clear. Perhaps using words which may be unfamiliar to the audience, without any explanation – presumably to boost the speaker’s own ego. If you find you are doing this, then in the words of Bob Newhart, in his Comedy Club therapy sketch video, just ‘STOP IT’!. Remember the NLP presupposition, ‘the meaning of the communication is the response it gets’. If you are not getting the response that you want then only you can take responsibility and you may need to look at clarifying, or simplifying your language. – ‘simples!’

Encourage discussion and inclusivity

Well, we can’t make our learners talk and neither should we. If attendees wish to quietly participate then of course they may do that. In our groups we hand out an information form inviting participants to talk separately to any of the teachers if they wish, and also as a way of requesting feedback in a very unpressured way. However, it may be that some attendees would really like to talk within the group but feel a little too shy. Sometimes we will have one or two who tend to ‘dominate’ the conversation, if we let them!

It is a real shame for anyone in the group to feel excluded and I think that something which sets aside a really good mindfulness teacher, is the ability to include each attendee through openness and warmth, as well as gentle and subtle eye contact with everyone.

So there you have it – to become a mindfulness teacher and perhaps even a really effective one, needs motivation, positive attitude, warmth, and learnable skills. At The UK College, our student feedback and completed assignments tells us that that on almost all occasions we manage to achieve that. If you are interested and would like to see the feedback from all our former students – just let us know.

To learn more, or to arrange an informal chat, please contact me (Nick), Isabelle or Michael of the Mindfulness Now team at Central England College on 0121 444 1110 or email info@mindfulnessnow.org.uk

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This is how I see it

We all see things in different ways, do we not? Just supposing we were all the same (mentally / emotionally) and saw things in exactly the same way. It would make things very simple and easy but extremely dull and therapists like me would probably be redundant!

I’m reminded of the wise man in the story of the 17 camels. In case you are not familiar with this story this is how it goes: In a land far away a man dies and leaves his entire estate, consisting of 17 camels, to his 3 sons under the strict condition that the eldest son would receive half, the middle son, one third and the youngest son, one ninth. Well I’m no mathematician but I’m sure you can appreciate their dilemma! In fact the sons were so distraught that they were about to kill and cut up one camel and divide it up when fortunately a wise man arrived (as they often do in this sort of story!), riding on his camel.

He said to the sons ‘here take my camel as a gift – now you have 18, so the oldest son can receive his half (9), the middle son his third (6) and you youngest son his ninth (2)’. So everyone was very happy when the wise man said, ‘hang on a mo – I’m no mathematician either but let’s add it up: 9 camels, plus 6, plus 2 – that totals 17 camels – so luckily we have one camel left over!’ and with that he got on his own camel again and rode away.

This is also a pretty good example of manipulating the ‘map’ to suit the ‘territory’. You may be familiar with the NLP pre-supposition, ‘The map is not the territory’. Pre-suppositions are statements which assume the truth of something. They are usually something which is open to argument over their truth but, to make them useful, it is helpful to treat them as if they are true. So what does ‘The map is not the territory’ mean? It’s about perception and the way that we all tend to see things in ways which are unique to ourselves. For example, just suppose that Aston Villa, which I support, and West Bromwich Albion, which my friend Jas supports, are facing each other in a local football match.

Since we are friends we decide to go to the match and sit side-by-side. Would you agree that Jas and I are unlikely to both see things the same way – unless it ends up with a draw, that is? Otherwise one of may see it as a glorious spectacle with a wise and handsome referee. To the other one of us it will be seen as a dull, unruly or atrocious waste of 90 minutes – see what I mean?

Mindfulness teaches us to be aware, and that awareness comes in via our senses: visual, sound, feeling, taste and smell – with a little bit of sixth sense, as in intuition, thrown in for good measure. We learn, in mindfulness practice, to be able to tune in and out of our senses individually. For example we go on a sound walk, where we intentionally deprive ourselves of visual stimulus and allow ourselves to be led around with our eyes closed. It really is a unique experience for sighted people and can feel unnerving and strange. The interesting thing is just what we do notice when our eyes are closed and participants report that all their other senses seem to be tuned up so that they are, for example, far, far more aware of all of the sounds around them and of the changing texture of the floor, or ground beneath their feet.

The picture at the top of this blog post, of me wearing a strange and completely ineffective pair of spectacles, has its own story to tell. On our training recently we had a woman called Stevie, who is a former GP who had to resign at an early age from her practice due to losing her sight. Stevie is a remarkable person who has made an enormously positive impression on me and, as far as I know, on everyone in our training groups with her. She has a brilliant ‘can do’ attitude and a robust sense of humour, including the ability to laugh at herself! She is a powerful motivator and I’m certain she will make a wonderful mindfulness teacher.

An enduring image for me is of seeing Stevie walking, unsighted and with her stick, and guiding a fully sighted person with their eyes closed, around paths, trees and lakes, during the sound walk exercise. Unusual or what! Stevie describes ‘seeing’ in a different kind of way. Because she had many years sighted, she has strong visual memories and can make visual constructs, describing herself as being like a bat and using her other senses, particularly sound and feeling, in way that gives her confidence on her ability to move unaided.

Stevie has travelled to our training courses by public transport, involving 2 trains. Her level of mindful awareness and her joyful appreciation of life is something which is quite extraordinary. How often do we walk around as if our eyes were closed? How much do we take for granted? How much do we allow insignificant, trivial matters to bother us in rather ridiculous ways? – I trust I’m not the only one!

So, coming back to the picture of me wearing the comedy specs – I very occasionally receive a thank you card from a student – Even more rarely I receive a small gift. Never before however have I received a gift like these comedy specs, which Stevie presented to me in a silver, silk lined box. She said our training had helped her, without any conventional eyesight, to take yet another view of helping people through mindfulness based therapy.

Teacher training via The UK College will give you a full insight into mindfulness and mindfulness based therapies. Courses run regularly and can be booked by phone or online. If you’d like to know more please call The UK College on 0121 444 1110 or email us.