Mindfulness & Mental Health: Introducing DBT

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Mindfulness is no longer just for practitioners of Zen and Buddhism but has moved into the mainstream Mental Health counseling. It has become one of the primary techniques employed among many therapists and coupled with meditation has shown tremendous amounts of improvements in otherwise non-responsive patients. As science furthers more and more we are seeing them recognize the benefits of Zen in daily practice. As NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) describes it, “While the combination of therapy and medication is crucial to recovery, the addition of self-awareness tools and skills can also be beneficial. Whether you are just beginning your recovery or are further along on your journey, the holistic practices can be an excellent complement to therapy and medication.”

While many treatment programs employ the use of mindfulness, I will focus on DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) in my analysis. So what is DBT? “Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), is a comprehensive cognitive-behavioral treatment that was originally developed to treat chronically suicidal individuals suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD). DBT has been found especially effective for those with suicidal and other multiply occurring severely dysfunctional behaviors. Research has shown DBT to be effective in reducing suicidal behavior, psychiatric hospitalization, treatment dropout, substance abuse, anger, and interpersonal difficulties,” (behavioraltech.org). So what exactly does all that mean? It is a non-judgmental way of the patient accepting that they have a problem with how they think, and rather than judge it, they can make changes to make their thinking more balanced using mindfulness as one of the primary techniques.

What is mindfulness within this context? The best and simplest definition I have come across is, “doing one thing at a time, in the present moment, with your full attention, and with acceptance,” (DBT Made Simple). This can be further broken down into two parts for the patient. First, awareness and focusing on the present moment. The second part is acceptance, and this is the part that seems to be overlooked. This requires not judging what you are doing mindfully. A large percentage of patients respond well to this primarily, in my opinion, because they are taking control of their mind. Most patients, as is the case with most people in general spend far too much time in the past reliving negative things and mindfulness is a way to put a stop sign up to this harmful cycle.

How is mindfulness employed? There are a multitude of ways this is employed in your everyday life, but I will briefly cover seven of them:
1. Counting breaths. Count your breaths up to ten. One on the inhale and two on the exhale and so on. When you find your mind has wandered, simply return to counting your breath without judgment.
2. Observing sounds. Sitting silently focus your mind on any sounds which you hear: the sound of your breath, the traffic outside, the air-conditioner, etc. When you catch your mind wandering, take note of it without judgment and return to observing sounds.
3. Observing an object. Pick an object, any object. Examine the object with all of your five senses. Touch it. Smell it. Take note of any sound it makes when you move it. When you mind wanders, simply bring your attention back to the object.
4. Observing your thoughts in a cloud. Also could be called labeling your thoughts. You imagine yourself lying in a field of grass looking up at the sky. In each cloud is a thought and as it floats by you label what kind of thought it is without judging yourself for having that thought. For instance if you think this is a stupid exercise, that would be an anger thought. If you think how will I pay my house payment next month, that would be a worry thought.
5. Focusing on a thought. Pick a meaningful thought or short sentence and focus on the thought as you breathe. For instance if you think wise as you breathe in and think mind as you breathe out. When your mind wanders return to your thought without judging yourself.
6. Being the gatekeeper to your mind. This is more simply observing your thoughts. As a gatekeeper would watch people coming through a gate, you will simply experience and observe each thought as it passes over you without judging it. Experience thoughts and emotions as they come to you, do not try to block them. When your mind wanders or you feel yourself trying to stop thoughts simply return to the practice of observing them without judging the thoughts or yourself.
7. Being in your body. Quietly sitting, focus on the different sensations you experience in your body. For example, the feel of your bottom on the chair or your arms against the armrests. Take notice of any emotions you might be feeling, such as worry over a presentation you have at work next week. When your mind wanders simply return your thoughts to your body without judgment.

Mindfulness: I’m too busy and other excuses…

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The practice of mindfulness takes patience and dedication and the litany of excuses not to practice are endless, but I will attempt to debunk a few of the more common ones.

“It makes me more anxious”

Some people, especially people with anxiety issues, find practicing mindfulness increases their anxiety.  This is an understandable reaction, but not enough to give up on the practice.  It is often found that the exercises focusing on breathing cause the most anxiety.  Simply focus on the non-breathing focused exercises to begin and once you become comfortable with mindfulness practice come back to the breathing exercises.

 I just can’t do it

What exactly does the person mean by this?  Is it just too hard?  Are they having difficulties concentrating?  Do they believe to be successful thoughts and feeling never intrude?  Many people say they can’t do it when they just mean it is really hard.  Truth is practicing mindfulness is a hard skill and the only way to get better is to keep pursuing it.

I don’t have time

This is one of the simplest problems to fix.  You can practice mindfulness anytime, doing anything.  If what you mean is you don’t have time for formal practice, let me remind you some of the exercises only take a few to ten minutes.  It is better to spend 10 minutes fully dedicated than an hour half-heartedly.  Try setting aside 10 minutes in the morning to practice mindfulness.

I can’t stay focused

Mindfulness is simply about staying in the present moment with acceptance.  Please throw any other expectations out the window.  The object of practicing mindfulness for many is to feel better.  It is with this in mind that we reach a paradox.  To feel better you must practice mindfulness, but if you focus on feeling better you have trouble staying focused on mindfulness.  So throw away the goal while practicing mindfulness and you will achieve that goal.

I fall asleep

Some people find they drift off when they practice mindfulness.  If the person has trouble sleeping this can be a good thing, simply practice mindfulness of part of your preparing for bed routine.  There are several factors to consider if this is a common issue:

  • Do you need more sleep? If you are sleep deprived your body will want to take advantage of this quiet time.
  • Is there a better time of day to practice? If at the end of the day you are always exhausted, simply begin practicing in the morning.
  • Did you eat a big meal shortly before practicing? Watch out for a food coma!
  • Is there a different position you can try? If you practice mindfulness lying down, simply try it is a sitting position.
  • Are you closing your eyes? Keep your eyes open while practicing.

You have to plan for the future

Some people believe that practicing mindfulness means you never consider the past or the future.  This simply is not the case, but you may be able to do those things mindfully whereas you do not currently.  Often planning for the future isn’t planning at all, but instead it is worrying.  Mindfulness actually helps you in planning for the future by keeping you grounded in reality of the present moment.

The Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts

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THE THREE TREASURES

  • Taking refuge in the Buddha
  • Taking refuge in the Dharma
  • Taking refuge in the Sangha

The Three Pure Precepts

  • Do not create Evil
  • Practice Good
  • Actualize Good For Others

 The Ten Grave Precepts

  • Respect life – Do not kill
  • Be giving – Do not steal
  • Honor the body – Do not misuse sexuality
  • Manifest truth – Do not lie
  • Proceed clearly – Do not cloud the mind
  • See the perfection – Do not speak of others errors and faults
  • Realize self and other as one – Do not elevate the self and blame others
  • Give generously – Do not be withholding
  • Actualize harmony – Do not be angry
  • Experience the intimacy of things – Do not defile the Three Treasures

Necrography of Paris: An Introduction

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Necrography of Paris

There are a multitude of reasons for visiting Paris: the museums, the food, the cultural significance, but one of the primary reasons I propose you visit Paris is the necrography. The cemeteries of Paris are their own set of museums of the rich, famous and infamous. From Napoleon at Les Invalides, to Victor Hugo at The Pantheon, to Edgar Degas at Montmartre, to the unknown multitudes in the catacombs, but first A few words on Edith Piaf, Moliere, Jim Morrison, and the many other at Paris’s largest cemetery Pere Lachaise which I lived a few blocks from and wandered many times.

Pere Lachaise the oldest of the current cemeteries of Paris opened in 1804 under the direction of Napoleon. Later the same week Napoleon crowned himself emperor. At the time Paris was in dire need of a new cemetery’s with skeletons protruding from churchyard grounds. The old Cimetiere des Innocents was overloaded with corpses breaking through the walls of an adjacent apartment house spilling into the basement. The scandal that resulted, as well as the odor, led to laws that forbid the burials in the city’s cemeteries and churchyards. In 1786 a quarry south of Paris had been opened for the overflow of bones.

At the start people did not flock to the new cemetery. In an effort to give the cemetery more distinction they performed reburials of two noted authors Moliere and La Fontaine. Soon Pere Lachaise was considered the most prestigious as other cemeteries were built. To this day if you can afford the heavy price it is the preferred burial plot in Paris. Its 118 acres of famous men and women from France and the world can be explored in a multitude of fashions with several different entrances, my preferred entrance can be accessed from the Rue de la Roquette which turns into Avenue Principale. All of the roads within the grand cemetery are named and posted like a small city of the dead all their own. Picking up a free map at the entrance or downloading it is highly recommended. ( https://api-site.paris.fr/images/74643)

Following Avenue Principale leads you to some renown grave sites the first of which is Colette. Sidonie Gabriella Colette (b. January 28, 1873, Saint-Sauveur; d. August 3, 1954, Paris). The author of Gigi and Claudine at School among others. It wasn’t until 1904 that she was allowed to use her own name on her stories. She was never much into conventional morality. After separating from her first husband she toured the country working as a mime, approvingly baring her breasts when the script required it. She would go on to have two further marriages. She wrote, “It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses.”

Within this section are many other notable figures among them Georges Eugene Haussmann (1809-1891) a prefect who modernized and widened the streets of Paris. Interestingly he wished to do away with all cemeteries in Paris and instead have a huge (5,000 acre) cemetery 14 miles outside Paris and employ funeral trains to transport the coffins and mourners. The people of Paris resisted this idea. Eventually you will pass Camille Pissaro, Frederic Chopin and many others before arriving at one of the most visited and which a cult following of teens and early twenties make a vigil to nearly everyday.

James Douglas Morrison (b. December 8, 1943, Melbourne, Florida; d. July 3, 1971, Paris). Coming from a patriotic military family and with an IQ of 149 he dallied as a gifted philosophy student, poet, heavy drinker before finding the medium for which he would become infamous lead singer of the rock group The Doors. His fame soared between 1967 to 1970, yet he spent his final months in Paris while attempting to become a serious poet. His official death was a heart attack in his bathtub, but conjecture started immediately. There was no autopsy and he was secretly buried at Pere Lachaise. Of course Morrison had fantasized about faking his death and starting a new life under the name “Mr. Mojo Risin.” One of his more famous lyrics,

“ This is the end / Beautiful friend / This is the end / My only friend, the end. / Of our elaborate plans, the end / Of everything that stands, the end / No safety or surprise, the end / I’ll never look into your eyes…again”

Mindfulness Training

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Other than meditation how should I practice mindfulness?

 Walking Practice

  • “Kinhin” is Sanskrit
  • Slowly walk, a step on a three count
  • “Walking not in order to arrive, but just to walk.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Chanting

  • Mantras or whole Sutras are chanted
    • Attunes the mind and body

 Bowing

  • Expression of respect or veneration
  • Greeting, thank you, or to take leave
    • Palm-to-palm, slight bow from the waist
  • Gratitude
    • Bow at waist, drop to knees, forehead to floor
  • Prostrations
    • Full Body Bow
      • “The act of unself-conscious prostration before a Buddha is … possible under the impetus of reverence and gratitude. Such “horizontalizings of the mast of ego”cleanse the heart-mind, rendering it flexible and expansive, and open the way to an understanding and appreciation of the exalted mind and manifold virtues of the Buddha and patriarchs. So there arises within us a desire to express our gratitude and show our respect before their personalized forms through appropriate ritual”  ~ Phillip Kapleau

Zen Practices of Mindfulness:

  • Akido
    • A dynamic defensive activity involving body movement and sparrinh with a short staff or sword.
  • Brush Painting
    • The fully engaged process of tapping and releasing energy to create an especially powerful composition.
  • Haiku
    • A seventeen-syllable poem (3 lines of 5-7-5) capturing the essence of a subject.
  • Ikebana
    • The arrangement of flowers in a spiritually and aesthetically satisfying manner.
  • Karate
    • A weaponless form of self-defense aimed at disarming an opponent or rendering his hostile motions harmless.
  • Kyudo
    • A form of archery combining spiritual and physical training.
  • No Drama
    • A style of theatre aimed at the direct communication of experience and emotion.
  • Pottery Making
    • An approach to making pottery that conveys special respect for the materials and process.
  • Shakuhaci
    • The playing of a bamboo flute in harmony with the breath and the emotional force moving the breath.
  • Tea Ceremony
    • An especially graceful and aware preparation of tea and management of the tea-partaking interchange between host and guest.
  • Zen Gardening
    • A meditative approach to creating, tending, and enjoying a garden

Evolutionary Ethics: Thoughts upon reading “The Moral Landscape” By Sam Harris

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Evolutionary Ethics: Thoughts upon reading “The Moral Landscape” By Sam Harris (Written 7/2011)

I find myself back in intensive care today having rushed to the ER throwing up blood. I have an endoscopy scheduled to see if they can find the bleed. I haven’t been here in Jacksonville long, but I have every faith that Mayo will discover what is wrong with me. There are a lot of medical questions I should be dominated with, but I’ll either survive this hospital stay or I won’t. There is nothing I can do about it so I am very calm. Instead my mind in preoccupied with morality. I just finished reading The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris and the questions he posits is morality defined and developed by religion or by science and specifically evolution is consuming me. It’s an interesting question and while he is firmly on the side of science, so many of my friends and family would argue the opposing point of view.

I’ve been on a religious search for meaning most of my adult life having tried on Christianity, Judaism, and finally Buddhism. Buddhist thought has carried a lot of weight with me for several years as I have an uneven practice. I will meditate and study for months on end and then nothing for a few months. As I lie here in the ICU though the desire to be able to pray to a loving God beseeches me. I can understand the comfort Christians receive

from such practices. The questions though with Christianity are too many and complex for me to find comfort. I’ve read the bible cover to cover three times, the first time back in college and the doctrine in not foreign to me in the least. The quote by an unattributed author keeps ringing in my head of the difference between philosophy and religion, “Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned.”

Epicurus was an Ancient Greek philosopher who lived from 341–270 BC. He taught that pleasure and pain are measures of what is good and evil; death is the end of both body and soul and should therefore not be feared; the gods neither reward nor punish humans; the universe is infinite and eternal; and events in the world are ultimately based on the motions and interactions of atoms moving in empty space. Most of his writings have been lost, but among those saved was this question, “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

Is there a universal morality which governs all of humanity upon which judgement can be placed as opposed to the predominantly liberal idea of cultural moral relativity? I argue yes and it is not tied to any religion, as a matter of fact religion confounds the matter and it is only through science and evolutionary theory that one might comprehend the overreaching standard of morality and how liberals, as well as conservatives, complicate this problem by allowing moral relativity to flourish. The desire not to judge other cultures and be a victim of ethnocentrism has taken on a life of its own in this politically correct world. This belief that there is no higher moral authority due to the fact that there are multiple faiths and each of those adherents believe they are living a moral life or promises of happiness and bliss in the next life. In Western culture for instance it is easy to judge Islam and their subjugation of women, gays, and infidels based on Judeo-Christian doctrine. I shall argue that it is a moral imperative to vanquish fundamentalism in all religions.

First to understand this argument there requires some understanding of some working definitions via the Oxford dictionary. Morality, principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior. Ethics, Moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity. Welfare, The health, happiness, and fortunes of a person or group. The absolute morality I am arguing is based upon the idea of that which increases the general welfare of humanity, or more simply for the greater good of society, as a whole is a moral framework. This is a human morality and not one simply for one ethnic, religious, or cultural group. You could argue for instance that slavery did indeed increase the welfare of the ancient Romans, but by all modern evaluations this is not seen as moral. For those of the Judeo-Christian faith for instance find the Old Testament of the bible is ripe with examples of God not only condoning, but embracing slavery. If God is indeed omnipotent and omniscient his condoning of slavery should be just as moral today as it was when the bible was first written. There are very few however who would argue that slavery is ethically right in this modern day.

Fundamentalists of virtually all faiths view their religious texts as the literal words of God. The prevalence of young earth creationists in Western civilization who believe the world is only approximately 6,000 years old is an example of this despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The rallying cry of this demographic seems to be, “I’m not a scientist. Science and evolution is only a possible theory.” This issue stems from the ignorance of understanding the difference between the concept of a scientific theory and the common use of the word theory. According to a Gallup poll in 2014, 4 in 10 Americans believe God created the world within the last 10,000 years. Approximately 50% of Americans believe in evolution over millions of years, with the vast majority believing God guided this process. Only 19% of Americans believe in a non-God guided natural selection view of evolution. Of course this is at odds with scientific consensus which dictates the humans or those of Homo genus emerged of earth some 2.5 million years ago. When I refer to evolution I will be referring to the unguided naturalistic theory of evolution.

The forced subjugation of women in Islam and requiring them to wear a burqa by Western standards is seen as immoral. The cultural apologists will argue that you can not judge one culture by your own standards. I agree with this up to a point, you can not ethically judge Islamic law based upon your Judeo-Christian standards as intrinsically they are all flawed as morality has changed in the past thousands of years since biblical law was written. If you can not apply religious standards to morality to determine an absolute it is obvious the morality is a relative concept based upon the culture? No. Through evolution, adaptation and science we can answer some of these questions about what is ethically permissible in a modern society and world at this moment in our evolutionary journey. Can we through evolutionary theory determine an exact moral code? No of course not, but we can theorize where our collective morality is headed. An example of this is the instance of slavery and racism in the United States. It is hard for anyone to reasonably argue that we haven’t morally evolved through the dismemberment of a slave based society, through lynchings in the not too distant past, to where we currently stand in the civil rights movement. Is this to say there is no racism? Of course not, but a great amount of progress has been made in the last one hundred and fifty years or so.

How can we derive our ethics from religion when the major religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam condone and embrace such concepts we find morally abhorrent such as slavery, severe punishment or death of an adulteress, forced marriage of a rape victim, misogyny, homophobia, genocide, etc. Is the golden rule moral because of an ancient text or do we recognize it as moral because we brought that belief with us to the reading of the bible? I argue the later. The golden rule or the ethic of reciprocity is found cross-culturally in virtually every religion from ancient Egypt, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. The ethic of reciprocity can not be argued stems from a Judeo-Christian worldview or even that it was borrowed from Ancient Egypt since there are unaffiliated cultures which predate Judaism in this belief. My argument is that it is basic human nature or in another words the result of thousands of years of adaptation and evolution.

I realize this belief is bound to be met with fierce opposition, but this is my personal philosophy shared by others such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and many scientists, but far from all of them. A new philosophical worldview is always met with fierce opposition, such is this case. Examples of morality derived through evolution and adaptation is ripe throughout the animal world. An example of this is monkeys will starve themselves to prevent their cage mates from receiving painful shocks. JH Masserman reported such adaptation in 1964, (Masserman JH. Wechkin S, and Terris W. 1964. “Altruistic” behavior in rhesus monkeys. American Journal of Psychiatry 121: 584-585.), “In one experiment, 15 rhesus monkeys were trained to get food by pulling chains. Monkeys quickly learned that one chain delivered twice as much food than the other. But then the rules changed. If a monkey pulled the chain associated with the bigger reward, another “bystander” monkey received an electric shock. After seeing their conspecific get a shock, 10 of the monkeys switched their preferences to the chain associated with the lesser food reward. Two other monkeys stopped pulling either chain—preferring to starve rather than see another monkey in pain.” This study is far from the only example: mice show greater distress at the suffering of familiar mice than unfamiliar ones, and chimpanzees have a demonstrable sense of fairness when receiving food rewards.

Sam Harris argued when faced with this philosophical as well as scientific point of view scientific ignorance is ripe and intervenes, “There is an epidemic of scientific ignorance in the United States. This isn’t surprising, as very few scientific truths are self-evident, and many are deeply counterintuitive. It is by no means obvious that empty space has structure or that we share a common ancestor with both the housefly and the banana. It can be difficult to think like a scientist (even, we have begun to see, if one is a scientist). But it would seem that few things make thinking like a scientist more difficult than religion.” (The Moral Landscape, p. 176). If we examine this from a Judeo-Christian perspective we are faced many inconsistencies that require answers. It is not my role here to argue whether religious faith is faulty or not, that is between you and what you believe in. It is my belief that morality is defined independent of any particular religion through evolution and adaptation.

Catholic Church vs. Cats

The Catholic Church vs. Cats

~ Pope Gregory IX, who held the papacy from 1227 to 1241 believed that cats embodied Lucifer himself. Gregory based his theory on “evidence” from Conrad of Marburg, a papal inquisitor. Apparently torture produced some pretty convincing confessions from people who worshipped the devil and his black cat. On June 13, 1233, Gregory issued the Vox in Rama, an official papal decree declaring that Satan was half-cat and sometimes took the form of a cat during Satanic masses. Catholics around the the continent began slaughtering any feline that entered their property. History shows that the Black Death, which ravaged Europe in the mid 1300s, was caused by rats and the fleas on them. Which means that killing off the rats’ main predators was probably not the best idea.

~ Pope Innocent VIII came to power in the late 1400s, during the throes of witch crusades in Western Europe. Because the powers that be dictated that the cat composed one of the main identifiers of a witch, the Church officially excommunicated the entire species.

The cat rituals have survived the centuries:

~ In Belgium, an entire festival, Kattenstoet (Festival of the Cats) is a parade in Ypres, Belgium, devoted to the cat. It has been held regularly on the second Sunday of May since 1955. The parade commemorates an Ypres tradition from the Middle Ages in which cats were thrown from the belfry tower of the Cloth Hall to the town square below and burned in the streets.

~ Queen Elizabeth I celebrated her coronation with the burning of a cat-stuffed effigy.

~ “After food, clothing and medicine, the fourth item is cosmetics and the fifth is pets,” Pope Francis said referring to all pets not just cats, referring to a study on where most people’s income goes. “That’s serious. One can love animals, but one should not direct them the affection due only to persons.” So we should probably take a step away from the dog ice cream and cat outfits in the pet aisle.

#Cats #CatholicChurch #Lucifer #Witches