Saturday, June 29, 2013

Mindfulness and Slowly Losing a Pet to Cancer

Does it sometimes hurt inside knowing loss is an inevitable process?
Is it sad to watch his body grow leaner as his appetite increases to a feverish pitch that cannot be sated?
Does it conjure up memories of the past and how this small, loving, beautiful creature ran across the street into your arms and purred the moment you made contact with its soft, cold, wet snow fringed young body?
Does it make me feel warm inside knowing this "stray" of sorts found my husband and I, out of all the other places it could have run to hide from the abusive environment it knew as its only home?
Does it change the fact that this cat has been a "whiny, needy, pain in the you know where, maybe we made the wrong decision when we brought him into our home" kind of cat?
Does it any way change the fact, that this loving, HUGE, orange tabby cat, with the incessant voice, the deep, vibrational purr and the constant need for attention of any kind, has been with us for almost 14 years?
Will his larger then life personality, and loving nature to just about everyone who has known him, be missed in a deep and heartfelt way?
Will I be able to mourn his loss, when it arrives, and know that the last of our "Jersey Cat" connections is gone?
Would I have changed anything knowing he had a heart murmur that prevented us from any type of surgery over the years, as it may have caused his heart to fail during the procedure? 
(In fact, this prevents us from removing the growing tumor in his jaw to help stave off the inevitable progression of cancer.)

To everyone, everywhere that has ever lost a pet for whatever reasons, and to all those that will, take comfort, as I do every day that this loss is indeed an inevitable part of life. Doesn't mean the loss is felt any less, but perhaps it means we can allow ourselves to feel it and let it be, not trying to fill up the painful places or the void with other distractions or worse, another pet, to replace the one we are losing. Just be with it: the pain, the sadness, the loss, the joys, the fun, the smiles, the snuggles, the warmth, the annoyances, the sorrows, the liveliness and all the things that make this pet just like a friend and family to everyone whose lives have been enriched by knowing these very special animals.

When the time comes, I will know when to say the final good bye, until then he is one of the most  spoiled, loved and appreciated cats on the planet.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Teacher Training in MBSR: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

About nine months or so ago I undertook the first official leg along my certification process route for MBSR: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction professional teacher training. This was the Practicum Teacher training held at the Center for Mindfulness Studies at the University of Massachusetts Medical School Campus in Shrewsbury, MA. It was/is a life changing opportunity to immerse oneself in the training process while taking an MBSR class with close to 40 other participants who were program, not practicum, participants. But an important distinction to note here is that while I gained valuable teaching insight from the practicum, I also participated fully in the MBSR class. My personal growth and embodiment of the entire MBSR program  came from my own ability and willingness to face myself each day and look at the places that needed to be examined in an effort to teach MBSR classes one day, on my own, with a clearer focus and direction.

It is not a teacher training program to be taken on whim or undertaken lightly. In fact, the people who both work and teach at The Center for Mindfulness (CFM) take great care in selecting people to enter the program who have demonstrated a solid meditation, yoga and mindfulness practice of their own, as well as a forthright openness about their own insight and personal struggles. In addition, a professional background that demonstrates a readiness to discuss and teach a program that requires a certain degree of competency, fluency and comprehension  of the scientific research regarding the medical, social, physical  and psychological aspects of MBSR and its ability to impact a person's well being. This is necessary in order to decimate the information to inform the teaching process. 

MBSR all started quite humbly over 30 years ago in the basement of the University of Massachusetts Medical School Hospital. I recently attended a second training class in MBSR, this time lead by the two people who are instrumental to the  success of this program as well as champions of the ongoing research that is being carried out today by neuroscientists, psychologists and host of other researchers. These two people are Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and Dr. Saki Santorelli. Jon and Saki led a 7 day training program in lovely Rhinebeck, NY for well over 200 or so attendees. The program is intensive and the days are long, but the leadership, direction and guidance was inspirational to both myself and others.

People came to this program from all over the world. I met medical professionals, researchers and teachers from as far away as China, Germany, Spain, the UK, Costa Rica, and Canada just to name a few. This particular class is open to not only people like myself desiring to teach MBSR classes, but also people who are interested in learning more about MBSR and how it may impact them in a personal way. These people, like many of us, came to find Jon and Saki's books a beacon of light in the maelstrom of life's storms and calamities. There are also people taking the class who are simply new to this world of mindfulness and are looking to learn more. In other words, all are welcome and the waiting list to attend is quite long, at least 300 to 400 hundred or more each year wait to find if they will be lucky enough to attend. Jon and Saki typically teach this week long class in the USA twice per year. Once in California and once in NY. They also teach this same program in Europe (Austria, I believe this year) and are heading to China, to lead the program. Imagine, Jon and Saki leading classes in a country which for many conjures up images of a populace rife with mindfulness, rooted in long-standing Buddhist belief system. Who better to reignite the path to mindful practice then this authentically embodied duo of MBSR leaders in the world today?

So, my journey toward certification, which can take up to 5 or more years, has begun. I am taking it slow and steady as MBSR teaching, to me, is not to be undertaken lightly. It is a program that has profound and lasting impact on people, and it is so important to recognize that each and every class taught is further opportunity for BOTH the students and teacher to learn more about themselves in a way that enhances the experience for all who attend. Training in MBSR is not a quick and dirty methodology of taking one training class and you are henceforth able to teach the class forever and ever. Just as a the full 8-week MBSR program is open to all participants, it is NOT a quick fix to all life's problems for them as well, no indeed. Neither teachers nor students stop learning after one session of classes. The learning is a life long process, and the skills taught become part of your daily life. Teachers are held to a higher degree of expectations,  and need to be open to themselves and their students. This insures the experience is true, authentic and being carried out in a mindful way, that can change moment by moment. The curriculum being taught is there, but the day to day process of teaching and imparting this information is more organic, in some ways as the participants and teacher both grow, learn, stumble and falter in their own process toward developing a life long practice.

To say I am equal to the challenge of teaching is irrelevant or more importantly, not what I am striving for here . What I am is committed to the ongoing process of learning more about myself in a way that embodies the heart and spirit of the MBSR program. To teach MBSR as taught at the CFM, University of Massachusetts Medical School, in a format that is viewed worldwide as the gold standard in MBSR training is not overstating things in the slightest. Jon Kabat-Zinn started a clinic to help people combat the physical pain in their lives. People who were being discarded by the medical profession as incurable or even worse, disposable to the medical community. What Jon did was introduce a compassionate form of training that did something remarkable: it taught the patient to take charge of their lives in a way that allowed for self healing and growth to occur. From a basement start, in a hospital, where the first 1,000 people were not even charged a penny came the birth of over 750 mindfulness-based programs worldwide that have won the respect and accolades of the medical profession a thousand times over.

Thank you Jon and thank you Saki, Jon's successor and current Director at CFM, University of Massachusetts Medical School, for ensuring the quality and consistency of training MBSR professionals. I am honored to be a VERY small cog in the wheel of a program that for many has shed light into places where no one thought they would ever feel the warmth of healing or a sense of wholeness. What many find is true meaning to the following words: Nothing to fix, no one is broken,  present for each moment in whatever is occurring, here and now,  for us as individuals, in THIS present moment.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Regrets Anyone?

My father's 93 year old brother passed away peacefully a week or so ago. This news struck my father deeply as he is now the only living sibling remaining out of eleven brothers and sisters. Dad was the "baby" of the family through default when his younger sister died at age 13 of Scarlet Fever, leaving my father the youngest of the remaining 10 siblings. His brothers and sisters, including my father, for the most part, all lived some incredibly long and well lived lives, despite their immigrant parents lack of education and in spite of them having VERY little money, in a time when this country was just opening its doors to the poor and destitute of the world.

Image From Ellis Island Archives

My father's father, PopPop to us, spoke in a mysterious accent from his far away homeland of Yugoslavia. He would sit at the kitchen table in his black vest and pants, white undershirt and dress hat when we would come to call. He always had a smile on his face and seemed quite  genuinely interested in us grand kids. It was hard to understand him though,  and I often felt at odds with the old fashioned decor in this Bethlehem, PA row home on the "wrong" side of the tracks as I would hear people in my life joke. I wasn't entirely sure back then what the right side of the tracks was either!

Now, I find myself wishing I had gotten to know him better or had the courage to have broken through the language barrier to ask him about what it was like to travel by boat, leaving behind a wife and children (they came over later) to make his way to America to start a new life. It would seem that this was a very courageous and brave thing to have undertaken on a mode a transportation  that was long and arduous. I was very young though when he was alive and not able to even think of questions like these to ask. Had I even done so, I probably would not have had the bravery to ask let alone comprehend his answers. I settled for smiles and laughs at our interchange as I tried to understand the words coming from his smiling mouth and crinkly eyes.
Bronnie Ware wrote a book entitled "The Top Five Regrets of the Dying- A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing." She was/is a nurse who cared for people who were dying: palliative care as it is often referred. The top five are:

1. I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn't work so hard.
3. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

In light of my Uncle passing and my father's musing about being the last of his siblings, I thought about myself and what this list meant to me, in terms of my life so far and the life I have yet to live. I am pleasantly surprised to find that I am surpassing all of the above "regrets" in a way that is far more clear then it was in my younger days! 

While I may not have youth on my side, I do have a clearer focus and direction in terms of choosing a career path that is much more authentic to the person I am and have been for all these years. In the past, I was unwilling to meld the two into a cohesive union that allowed for a well-balanced perspective. I worked my proverbial ass off in my younger days in a career that left me devoid of a private life, but no more!  

I also have found myself to be far courageous then I was in my past about expressing my feelings. I feel it keeps things "real" and allows little time for artifice and deception. I do have to work hard though to think carefully before I speak as I can still say things without thinking and as we all know once something leaves our mouth, it is SO hard to take back.

The only area I do have some regrets is in allowing friends to drift from my life. I know now, I was not being truly authentic about who I was at the time, so those people did not see a true reflection of myself, and this caused confusion on all our parts. I thought I knew myself or better yet, thought I knew the self I projected to others....I had SO much to learn. (I am still learning!)

So, my regrets are indeed few....I give an abundance of time to the well being of myself, my son and my husband. My home is a haven for healing and positive growth. My career with meditation and mindfulness teaching, is well grounded in a place I feel most comfortable as it has been part of my life for over 21 years now. I work hard at being content, joyful and connected to life in a way that supports not only myself but the developing intellect of my son and the whirlwind business career of my husband. 

I am both captain of my ship and an anchor for myself as this gives me a solid place from which to help others navigate their own ships, and chart their own destinies.  Sure, there there will indeed be storms ahead, and lives lost in the balance, and yes I know, as in all things, that change is inevitable. So I might as well ride the waves firm in the knowledge that all things must indeed come to end.......might not be easy.....but there is a certain kind of resilience in just simply knowing this fact. 

After all, I descended from some incredibly brave and courageous people who had the fearlessness to step onto a ship with hundreds of other strangers, feeling scared and alone, to come to America and make a life for themselves far from the safety of their homes. They had hope in their hearts and a will to make a better life for not just themselves, but that of their future offspring as well. Hopefully, they had no regrets as I know I am most grateful to my distant relatives for heeding the call to seek out a new life in a new part of the world. Thank you!