Healthy Relationships- Bringing Mindfulness to Others

One of the biggest values of a daily mindfulness practice is the ability to remember what’s important to you, what gives life meaning, and stay focused on that. It’s the same when we apply mindfulness to our relationships and interactions with others. Asking what’s important to you, and how do you want to show up each day with others you come in contact with is key. We seek to have healthy relationships and want to have healthy responses to events and experiences in life, though we often either notice we’re not quite who we’d like with others, or we may outright struggle with certain relationships in our life. How many of us have found ourselves reacting in a way we instantly regret, notice we’ve developed a habit of responding to someone in our life with a subtly unhealthy attitude, or perhaps we find that we barely acknowledged the cashier, the waiter, or the bus driver and wish we had?

When we are mindful, we are able to bear in mind, even in a momentary interaction, what we value and how we’d like to show up, so that we can respond in healthier ways. Bringing to mind our values, developing our attentional skills so we can attend to all of our relationships and interactions, being able to choose to respond rather than react when we are triggered, being able to see how we mislabel, use projection and exaggeration and otherwise misperceive reality, and cultivating an open heart, so that we can extend ourselves, our kindness and compassion, to all that we come into contact with, these are skills we can develop and nurture with a mindfulness practice.

In our Mindful Life Program Foundations course, we bring a strong emphasis to the four keys of mindfulness – attention, values, wisdom and practices of an open heart, and how they relate to having healthy relationships. Developing these areas, participants find that they are able to be more mindful in their relationship with themselves. This in turn, allows them to turn their attention and intentions more clearly towards relationships with family, friends and coworkers, and extend it to those they meet and interact with. We look at ways we can respond that are aligned with our values, that are meaningful to us, and we feel good about in the moment and afterwards, and how we get caught in reacting in ways that we don’t feel good about.

During the course, we spend time identifying and exploring some of the unhealthy habits we can fall into in relating to others and their causes. Through journaling and small group discussions, participants have a chance to look at how some of these ways of relating have affected friendships in their lives. Bringing wisdom from ancient traditions and western psychology, we investigate, for example, how our misperceptions, expectations and attachments, and our emotional triggers affect our interactions with others. It is so easy to get attached to another’s behavior being a certain way, or expecting one’s actions to cause a certain outcome in others, and suffer as a result. Our misperception in such an instance is one of the reasons we may end up having a regrettable emotional event! Having clarity about unrealistic expectations and attachments to an outcome can reduce much stress in our lives and interactions. As we develop our ability to have attention and presence of mind, we are much more able to bring this wisdom into our days. More obvious unhealthy behaviors such as criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling are highlighted in one of the videos used in the course, and illuminate these as red flags in any relationship.

What we easily conclude, and investigate more deeply, is that how we respond in any interaction has an impact on others. Whether it is smiling at the cashier, genuinely thanking a coworker, or how we respond in a more intimate relationship such as in marriage or parenting, our words and actions have an impact. One kind gesture may save someone from despair, or at least lighten his or her day. Attending to a conversation with a child, or with a spouse, allows them to feel cared for and heard. Thich Nhat Hanh has said, “One word, one action, one thought can reduce another person’s suffering and bring that person joy.” Alternately, our behavior can be harmful. For example, studies have shown that contempt, that behavior showing disapproval tinged with disgust, done from a place of superiority, over a period of time in a relationship, can have an impact on the recipients’ immune system for up to four years and impact the number of infectious diseases they have. Also, research has shown that how parents argue in the third trimester has a measurable impact on the baby’s neurological system in the first three years of life.

As we identify our real values, our desire to act with more kindness, more compassion, more attention, we ask, how can we create healthier relationships? While improving relationships is obviously an extensive topic, bringing the tools of mindfulness with a focus on the four keys areas of mindfulness help get to the core of improving our relationships. Starting with cultivating our attention, our ability to attend closely to those around us, we bring care and concern to others. John Bruna has pointed out that, “Truly listening, attentively, and with care, is one simplest and most kind gifts we can give anyone.” Through attending to the moment, ourselves and others, we are more present and aware. By creating more awareness, we create more choice in how we respond, rather than unconsciously reacting. Viktor Frankl’s quote illustrates this well. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” As we move into looking at our deepest values, cultivating wisdom, and planting the seeds of an open heart, we find our relationships improving day by day.

Online Course with Co-Founder John Bruna

Starting May 16th, we offer the opportunity to take a four week online course, The Four Keys of Living Mindfully, allowing those in any location to have access to this rich experience. The participants use an easy live video conference system that allows them to learn directly from John Bruna, co-founder of the Mindful Life Program and author of the upcoming book, The Wisdom of a Meaningful Life as well as interact and share with other course participants. This 8 hour course covers the key areas of concentration, values, wisdom and an open heart using lecture, meditation, small group discussion and journaling. Learn more about this opportunity at https://www.mindfullifeprogram.org/upcoming-event/online-mindfulness-course-may-16-june-6/2016-06-06/.

Invest in Yourself – Applications Due May 16th

“To invest in myself and my own mindfulness practice, guided and mentored by inspirational and masterful teachers over the course of a year, was a precious opportunity that transformed the way I live and experience the world. To then bring that deep practice and skillfulness to others as a mindfulness teacher is one of the most personally rewarding experiences I have had in my own life, and a gift that I am grateful to offer to others, helping to change lives in practical and beneficial ways.” – Laura Bartels

We invite you to apply to one of our year-long programs, either solely for personal transformation or to become a Mindful Life Program Certified Mindfulness Teacher. We also offer the option to become a Mindfulness in Recovery certified facilitator as well as a Certified MLP Teacher during the year-long program.

We are excited to select a diverse group to train together beginning in October. Participants from all walks of life, career paths and from many locations become a close knit learning community throughout the year of distance learning, after coming together for the first of two five-day retreats at the La Casa de Maria Retreat Center in Santa Barbara, California in October. Our co-founders and instructors, John Bruna and Mark Molony are incredibly caring and dedicated to supporting our community of practitioners as they progress along this amazing journey. We look forward to seeing each member of the group both deepen their own mindfulness practice and for those in the teacher certification program, prepare to bring an integrated approach to transforming lives with mindfulness.

Applications are due May 16th for both the Mindfulness Teacher Training & Certification and Personal Development in Living Mindfully Programs. Learn more and request an application at https://www.mindfullifeprogram.org/mlp-teacher-training-and-certification/ or https://www.mindfullifeprogram.org/programs/mlp-personal-development-program/.

Enhancing Resilience in Firefighters Mindfully

by Mark Molony

For the past 15 years I have had the honor to work with an amazing group of professional firefighters from the local fire service in the Melbourne area which numbers approximately 2,200 firefighters. More recently, I have been incorporating the foundational practices of the Mindful life Program in assisting firefighters to developing resilience as they navigate the effects of their work. My role is as a part time consultant mental health worker supporting firefighters to maintain their well-being and mental health while they continue to work in a challenging emergency response role. Our firefighters, like many around the world, also work as first responders to medical emergencies where patients are non-breathing and non-responsive. These life and death calls can be very challenging for firefighters. As part of my role, I keep an eye out for all the different types of stress and traumatic situations firefighters are exposed to and work to restore and enhance their personal resilience.

One way I work with firefighters is by providing a service called a “well-being check”. This well-being check is the mental health equivalent of regular medical monitoring or physical health check ups by a doctor. In these well-being checks, I share about what can lower our resilience. I explore symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression and trauma, using some screening questionnaires and by reviewing significant life events that have impacted them in the past year. Together, we also explore beliefs and actions that support well-being and human flourishing. As a result of this well-being check, we develop a plan for the individual firefighter for the next year that will continue to build their resilience. The fire crews are usually very enthusiastic about their well-being checks, especially when I let them know that the aim is to help them maintain their own awareness, well-being and resilience while they are helping rescue others in our community.

As a result of my individual conversations with firefighters, I am able to have a very honest discussion about what helps to promote well-being and resilience. I introduce mindfulness, the practice of noticing and monitoring how you are in the present moment while actively remembering what are the important considerations in your life that you wish to take care of.

“The practice of mindfulness is much more than present moment awareness. It includes and facilitates the cultivation of concentration, wisdom and the ability to make healthy choices that foster genuine happiness and a meaningful life.” – John Bruna

These discussions often promote great interest as firefighters can be challenged by remembering many distressing and traumatic situations. These memories can trigger off some very strong emotions and reactions. After observing hundreds of firefighters in my professional practice over 15 years, one of their major strategies for dealing with these symptoms is keeping themselves very busy. It is common to see firefighters working two jobs and/or undertaking large projects, volunteering and undertaking charity work to keep themselves occupied. This busy behaviour is often highly productive, yet can also be driven by trying to avoid the difficult feelings, memories and thoughts that appear when you stop. We all can experience this when we stop being occupied and let our minds wander. Often the wandering mind will roam to areas of worry and concern. The practice of mindfulness and mindfulness meditation allows firefighters to calm and settle themselves and be present. This is often a pleasant contrast to the busy avoidance behaviours that keep them active and filling large chunks of their waking hours.

I have been delighted to see the beneficial impact that the foundational practices of the Mindful life Program has had in assisting individual firefighters to start developing a mindfulness practice. As a population, our firefighters tend to be practical, no nonsense types who want down to earth, grounded and simple strategies. So the design of the Mindful Life Program to be practical, universal and accessible works well. The mindfulness practices work at both a preventative and remedial level by assisting them to maintain higher levels of resilience to deal with their emergency responder roles and helping to reduce and cease distressing reactions after difficult personal and traumatic incidents. I look forward in the future to introducing a pilot mindfulness training for recruit firefighters and monitor their progress to more effectively validate the impact of the mindfulness training.