How Mindfulness changes your Life

With all the attention given to mindfulness lately, you’d be forgiven for thinking it might be the answer to all your problems. I guess that happens when something (even a 2500-years-old something) becomes a THING. We hear about it everywhere, some claims about it get exaggerated, we discover that even our obnoxious colleague is doing it, and so we think, “GREAT! Here is everything I have been searching for!”

Well, I want to tell you two things:

1. Mindfulness is not a silver bullet. It’s not a magic trick that all of a sudden eliminates stress and gives you the life of your dreams.

2. But, whenever I speak with people who have integrated a mindfulness practice into their lives, the phrase they almost always use to describe it is this:

life-changing!

It’s kind of like a Zen riddle — mindfulness changes everything and yet it doesn’t change anything.

Even when you practice mindfulness, you’ll still get stuck in traffic, your children will still argue, and you’ll still have to file your taxes.

Nothing changes, and yet everything changes. The profound transformation that occurs takes place within you. You choose to relate to the stressors in life more skillfully.

How does this transformation occur? Well, when you are practice mindfulness, you experience some pretty powerful insights that lead to some pretty amazing shifts:

1. You realize you are not your thoughts.

This has probably been one of the most powerful insights from my personal mindfulness practice. I came to mindfulness many years ago, when I was in the nasty trenches of postpartum depression. In those days, I would spend my 30-minute morning commute lost in a downward spiral of negative thoughts — “I’m a terrible mother, I never should have had children, my children deserve so much better, my life is never going to get better, I’m going to be sad and cry every day for the rest of my life…”

As you can imagine, this was not a very productive way to begin my day.

Mindfulness taught me that my thoughts are not reality. They’re just thoughts. They’re passing mental phenomena. They are story and interpretation.

Mindfulness taught me that instead of getting caught up in the thought vortex, I can recognize, “I’m just thinking I’m a terrible mother right now.” I can watch that thought arise and dissipate. It doesn’t mean I’m actually a bad mother!

This simple change in perspective is TRULY LIBERATING.

2. You don’t sweat the small stuff.

We spend so much of our day caught up in habitual reactions. Our child throws a fit and our heart starts racing and we react unskillfully.

A tantrum, in the grand scheme of things, is small stuff. In fact, most of the things we waste our energy reacting to are small things. But in the moment, everything seems like a REALLY BIG THING.

In the time it takes us to breathe in and breathe out, we gain perspective. We remind ourselves that the tantrum will end. We realize the person who just cut us off in traffic didn’t do it as a personal attack.

Mindfulness helps us cultivate equanimity. We become aware of our triggers and learn to pause so that we may respond, not react.

We’re not constantly cycling from one activating crisis to another. Our nervous systems become more regulated. We literally stop sweating the small stuff.

3. You appreciate things more.

Mindfulness is all about the beginner’s mind. You’ve played Candyland a million times, but not on this day at this time with this child who is a little bit different than he was yesterday.

When we pay attention, we see beauty where we didn’t notice it before. We see growth and transformation and change where before we may have only seen stagnation.

4. You develop greater compassion.

Some mindfulness teachers say that that awareness and compassion are THE 

SAME THING.

The more aware we are of the present moment, the more in tune we are with the experiences of others, their joy and their pain. This generates compassion — a true desire that all creatures be free of suffering. We act to help others not because we know we should or because it’s what we’ve been told to do. We help others because we are aware that their pain is our pain.

Our awareness becomes compassionate engagement with life.

5. You learn the art of acceptance.

We spend a lot of our day fighting the present moment, rather than accepting it. Our thoughts are full of I like this and I don’t like that and I want more of this and I want that to go away. We miss out on experiencing the present moment when we spend our energy constantly judging it.

With mindfulness, we accept whatever is present. Because that’s WHAT IS. It’s not resignation — it’s simply recognizing this is what it’s like right now. And then we have a choice — if it’s something we can change, we can work in the next moment to change it. If it’s not something we can change, we can soften into it.

When we step out into a cold winter’s day, we can’t change the windchill. If we tighten our bodies to resist the cold, we constrict our blood flow and actually feel colder. If we release that holding, the temperature remains the same, but we begin to warm up.

Mindfulness doesn’t eliminate the stressors from your life. Your children will still throw tantrums, people will still cut you off in traffic, and winters will still be cold. That part doesn’t change.

But a lot of things DO change.

With mindfulness, you discover, as Jon Kabat-Zinn writes, “that there is a way of being, a way of looking at problems, a way of coming to terms with the full catastrophe that can make life more joyful and rich than it otherwise might be.”

And that’s life-changing!

Sarah Rudell Beach

Does your relationship handle the (corona) crisis?

Try a mindful approach!

A lockdown means for many of us that we are the whole day with each other in the same space. Maybe in the beginning it feels romantic and cozy but at a certain point the irritations can arise. Especially if there are also other stress factors! 

According to relationship therapist Jean-Pierre van de Ven, it is a good idea to occasionally reflect on the six paramitas. These are guidelines for daily life, based on the Dzogchen Buddhism. This branch of Tibetan Buddhism is also called atiyoga; yoga for the mind. Sounds vague, but it isn’t!

The six main pillars:

1. Be Mindful and stay in the moment

Being forced to be together 24/7   is difficult enough for most. Therefore, it might be helpful to focus only on today. Not on the past and not on tomorrow. We tend to look the other way if there is something wrong with our relationship. We prefer to talk about the “shit” from the past. Or we dream away in future ideals. If you simply talk about the present, you already have two thirds less worries.

2. Generosity

Share with each other and help each other where you can. “Do not necessarily expect anything in return, not even a thank you,” says Van de Ven, “because expectations often go wrong.” Just try to be generous without wanting anything in return. Another form of generosity is that you don’t respond to your partner’s anger. Acknowledge that there is a problem, but don’t make it bigger than it is.

3. Discipline

Make sure you do not harm or hurt the other person. This means that you do not blame, offend, beat or humiliate. But also that you don’t ignore the other person. Do you know it all? Then keep all lessons, solutions or diagnoses to yourself. Also, don’t hurt the other person by lying. Even a lie for good will is not good for your relationship. Be open about your motives, wishes and needs. Even if this is painful for your loved one. Show the other who you really are. It strengthens confidence and makes your relationship more intimate and loving.

4. Diligence

“A relationship is constantly developing, it is a living thing,” says Van de Ven. “Therefore, do not consider it as something that is finished. Compliment each other, tell your partner why you appreciate him or her and keep doing that until the end. Compare it with giving a plant water. The plant will die if you give the plant only one time water for the whole year.

5. Endurance

Accept the other as person as (s)he is, wanting to change someone is not a good basis. Take the other person’s message and opinion seriously. Are you normally in charge? Then go crazy and accept a proposal from your loved one without grumbling. See what comes of it. That generates confidence and shows patience.

6. Wisdom

“It is important to realize that you are interdependent in a relationship,” says Van de Ven. “You are in the (wedding) boat together: if there is a leak, you must take responsibility yourself and not point to your partner to seal it. Otherwise you’ll drown yourself.” This interdependence means that you work together as a team. This starts with giving things to each other, but also being open to the things your partner gives you. This creates space for each other, while you are still connected.

Inspired by an article form Psychology Magazine.nl, April 2020

The power of Mindfulness in the schools

Especially now with COVID19 and with the Hurricane Season coming

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn (1994)

Mindfulness education is the purposeful inclusion of mindfulness and mindful meditation principles, theories, and practices into education. 

The intentions of mindfulness education are to help students learn:

  • Self-awareness
  • Empathy
  • Techniques to calm and focus the mind
  • Mindful communication
  • Applying mindfulness skills to everyday life (iBme, n.d.)

Different studies have shown mindfulness can have a positive impact, including:

  • Attention and focus
  • Better grades
  • More effective emotion regulation
  • Better behavior in school: better decision making
  • Greater empathy and perspective-taking
  • Better social skills
  • Reduced test anxiety
  • less stress
  • Decreased frequency/severity of post traumatic symptoms 
  • Increases positive moods
  • Improves Health and Body Image, increases self-esteem

Researcher Erica Baxter (n.d.) has some helpful suggestions for those looking to implement mindfulness programs in their school:

  1. Teachers and staff should have training to help them reinforce any lessons taught by professional mindfulness instructors.
  2. Teachers should show full support for the mindfulness program to encourage their students.
  3. Parents should be involved and maybe can incorporate some aspects of mindfulness practice at home; a separate course for parents may be a best practice.

Do you want to implement Mindfulness in your school, contact MCA! info@mcacaribbean.com

The power of Mindfulness in the schools

Especially now with COVID19 and with the Hurricane Season coming

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn (1994)

Mindfulness education is the purposeful inclusion of mindfulness and mindful meditation principles, theories, and practices into education.

The intentions of mindfulness education are to help students learn:

  • Self-awareness
  • Empathy
  • Techniques to calm and focus the mind
  • Mindful communication
  • Applying mindfulness skills to everyday life (iBme, n.d.)

Different studies have shown mindfulness can have a positive impact, including:

  • Attention and focus
  • Better grades
  • More effective emotion regulation
  • Better behavior in school: better decision making
  • Greater empathy and perspective-taking
  • Better social skills
  • Reduced test anxiety
  • less stress
  • Decreased frequency/severity of post traumatic symptoms 
  • Increases positive moods
  • Improves Health and Body Image, increases self-esteem

Researcher Erica Baxter (n.d.) has some helpful suggestions for those looking to implement mindfulness programs in their school:

  1. Teachers and staff should have training to help them reinforce any lessons taught by professional mindfulness instructors.
  2. Teachers should show full support for the mindfulness program to encourage their students.
  3. Parents should be involved and maybe can incorporate some aspects of mindfulness practice at home; a separate course for parents may be a best practice.

Do you want to implement Mindfulness in your school, contact MCA! info@mcacaribbean.com

Dealing with (economic) loss a Mind Full

Un·mind·ful   

In our daily life we usually and mostly let our mind stay with the habits that made their home in the driven automatic pilot, navigating ourselves between thoughts about where we are, where we want to be and where we don’t want to be. Our mind and thoughts are traveling in time, comparing, planning and adjusting in this doing mode: action and judgmentally driven. Staying with the thoughts. This strategy in allowing our thoughts to run our minds this way works wonders… when applied to non-internal matters.   The effectiveness of mindfulness comes forward when we are trying to deal with our internal experiences and when it comes to accept and let go of our emotional sensations.

mind·full …….mind·ful·ness

Mindfulness invites you to bring your attention to the moment, purposely stepping out of that river of thoughts, and connecting to what is here now and to be non-judgmental about it. This being mode brings you an awareness and receptiveness to information that can connect you to calmness and hopefully lead to wiser decisions. Or in other words staying away from your thoughts and the idea that you can control thoughts. That practicing mindfulness is easier said than done, is a very realistic thought. A thought that we can hold up as an example of the work it takes. The actual hard work you will have to do. Firstly to gain insight in the principles of mindfulness and secondly to cultivate it in your life.

Mindfulness is part of my life for a while and I notice I continue to struggle with noticing when the driven automatic pilot takes over and I get entangled in thoughts and thus emotions with seemingly no way out.

So in my journey to share my experiencing of mind.ful.ness, I also will share my experiences of unmindfulness, or better said a Mind Full.  Unfortunately, the stress around the current world crisis COVID-19 offers ample opportunity to take you with me, in my thoughts and fears and the powers of aversion avoidance habits and automatic thinking patterns…. Today I like to share with you the experience of the power of thoughts and a typical path of thoughts and worries that can arise: around and around and down you go… the  path of overwhelming downward thinking…

Dealing with (economic) Loss, a rollercoaster of thoughts…

My cousin Hans often says: ‘The soup is never eaten so hot as that it is served…’ This saying usually helps when overthinking my worries. But struggling with the many unknowns, the numbers of sickness, deaths and the economic loss so far with the arrival of Covid-19 to my world, even that comforting saying does not give its usual calming effect. Thoughts jump from one to the other. And it keeps singing in my head: The situation is bad. Just. Real. Bad.  And not only here, but in the whole, wide, world.

And of course I try to stay with the most favorable part of this bad situation, the wonders of spending time together, the break for nature in general, the time for new hobbies… but with what our mind does and is attracted towards is clear: my attention swings back to my thoughts and mostly to negative thoughts….click, click, click, further downward, to meet my fears at the bottom of the pit. And I really try. I try again to focus on the positive thoughts while trying to let the saying about the hot soup calm me down. So I try for example to focus on the advantage of the additional time available, when you don’t have to go to work….click…ehhh, when you don’t have to go to work, uhm,….click, because.… There. Is. No. More. Work.  And so the focus on positive thoughts starts fading away, and the speed train of negative thoughts starts leaving the station and the hot soup burns in my throat. Because this is the reality of now. This is the reality that too many are facing now or soon, right here on our island, our lovely Sint Maarten.  Where the dependency on tourism hits us hard….. again. 

Despite the constant worry about our actual health and the health-threat to our loved ones, my thoughts travel towards the economic side of loss too today. And it dawns on me: the economic s..t is going to hit the fan! And this mess from the fan already happened for many that are confronted with immediate loss of income. Which means that you can only can keep going so long as your piggybank with savings can hold you. And so soon after Irma, that can only mean that many can not hold it that long…. or can they? How hot is the soup going to be served?

Good coping thoughts in the doing modus would be to literally ‘tighten the belt around your pants’; cut down on all costs as much as you can. Start that long planned veggie garden (1 square meter can feed a family a whole season, and more if you exchange produce with others). Re-use what you can, stop buying anything new that is not absolutely necessary and … and… uhhmm, this all sounds like a plan while your piggy savings can hold you. But what if not, what if you really can’t? What if you stretched your last dollars to that literal breaking point? What if you reached the point of the broken (piggy) bank?  Sayings about the soup will not do much anymore. Overwhelmed sensations arrive and all good intentions are likely fly out of the window.  Because this situation is bad.….. Just. Really. Bad!

Click…In my thoughts money problems become so closely connected to mental problems… stress and lack of finances combined are a lethal combination for society and for its mental health. Click.. My thoughts continue their journey and arrive at the station of the concern. Specific with the concern of unbalanced (economical) society of St. Maarten, whereby many are living below or on minimum wage level. High numbers of single parent families with multiple children where moms or dads are working multiple jobs to make end meet in normal times. 

The other and relative smaller part is the group that has a nice, reasonably paying job or a small business that does reasonably well on the sunny days and when the ships come alongside the peer and the planes land on the airstrip in Simpson Bay and the hustle and the bustle goes as planned.  And then there is the relative few, that just have no economic worry and enough meat and fat on the bones to lockdown for a 1000’s Covid-19 or more. 

All will have to worry now, as the world’s economy comes tumbling down. And it’s the large part of society that will run into a loss that will cause an effect that no one can run away from. Not being skilled in economics, but assessment based on gut feelings will give a good start: stress about money makes you worry, worries make you stressed out and stressed out you can become dis-functional… Add it up. Hot soup to better stay away from all together. click. And what to do? Thoughts going in control mode and still try to control what is out of my control. It is Government that will step in. And again a rollercoaster of thoughts…..Tax relief or better temporary freeze will help businesses to get through this period, financial payroll help and low interest loans for individuals and business alike, while financial support for loss of jobs is offered. The measurements of lockdown to guarantee our health and safety for COVID-19, surely are inextricably linked to support packages as described above? The train of thoughts is hard to stop, how comforting it is to think in solutions on what to do or easier, what should be done. click.. 

Is it Government alone that can help and put a bandage on the bleeding economy, whichever way that economic experts can advise to protect the weak and the vulnerable and the business community parallel to the health measurements currently made? The semi-private GEBE that probably provides more water and electricity to households ordered to stay put at home. The many families challenged to meet the surcharge let alone the bill for actual use might create space? Waive the surcharge? Or better waive the bill altogether? Thoughts and more thoughts..

How wonderful if Sint Maarten can make itself exceptional and all in charge really put friendly into the friendly island legacy. Because what outlook does it offer to think of how the current bills become added up to impossible heights at the end of this Covid-19 crisis? click. click…Bills… banks…click. The banks can possibly do their share as well. This thought definitely deserve some attention by the financial experts with heart for the greater good. Introduction of sliding scales for bank fees suddenly does not seem so far fetched anymore.

Click ,click ,click and There is also the moment, or is it tiredness, where my stressful non-economic awareness stops coming with solutions. Sensations of worries and concern come right back.

How to go about the stress on a personal level, let alone on a society level, island level and region level, ultimately part of a world-wide level and wonder if loosing your money can make you loose your mind? Loosing what you have, suffering loss… my mind reacts with strong aversion and my thoughts want to stay away from this edge. Drift away from the psychological knowledge about breaking points, for individuals and societies alike. The things we usually can hold on to, are going up in thin air..click. Everything under pressure becomes fluid.

At this point in time, there doesn’t seem to be a choice: you literally want to keep your society healthy. And the rest will have to come after. Because if you’re sick, you usually don’t worry about economics but the will to get better takes over and you simply eat the soup as hot as it is served.  But when you are part of a crumbling system and not actually sick, this soup might burn you or you throw out the soup all together….

So that. is. how. bad. it. really. can. get….And motivates me to embrace the following: And thoughts come like mantra’s: Now is the time to step in, with all mighty force that real unity can offer. To assess in which way you can actually contribute. To turn on your creativity. To feel, right here and now that the soup is hot and to bring awareness to the new possibilities that will arise, no. matter. what. To connect to all mighty power that love and compassion for each other can generate. To let go of what you know and to re-invent the principles of human beings: go back to basics and let go. Live like a herd of horses. Cuddle up and weather the storm as ONE. You thought that Irma was bad? I am motivated to show COVID-19 what SXM can do and to turn on the strong and heat proof ability to beat this and eat the soup so hot we surprise ourselves. By looking for that renewed balance and CONNECT. Your strength might be my weakness and vice versa. If we work together we can support and create balance in our existence. To open up the will to help.

Click, click, click time to meditate and step out of this wild river of thoughts. And make some soup. And call my cousin.

Next week: The cultivating of mindfulness and what it can do, especially dealing with COVID-19.

MCA Coach, Alexandra van Luijken

Press release MCA, Mindful Caribbean Agency

It’s tough outside, let’s make the inside calm!

The consultancy partners of MCA, Mindful Caribbean Agency would like to inform the general public of St.Maarten, the business community and especially the healthcare professional-community that they have specialized psycho-social care programs available, effective for both individuals and groups. 

These programs have been put through the test before and proven successful again amongst others, in the after care of hurricane Irma and designed with awareness towards the characteristics of the local situation on St.Maarten.

The programs focus on enhancing skills for coping, methods of self-care and stress reduction, and much more, all needed during these stress full times with the world being confronted by COVID-19. 

This pandemic has so many effects on so many level, that professional care programs become necessary, focussing on training in coping skills that work preventive towards amongst others, burn-out and depression, while at the same time improves resilience towards dealing with this continued unprecedented situations that redefines everything you knew as normal.

Research shows that workers in the frontline, which includes all staff in hospitals and first responders, from cleaning crew to ambulance drivers to patrols on the streets, become especially vulnerable towards the secondary effects of the pandemic. But also every individual member of society, and business and government employees alike, are confronted with stress factors causing burn-out, depression and anxiety related complaints, while the demands to be ‘on standby’ are high. 

Psycho-social programs focussing on building coping skills and resilience have proven effective and improves the effectiveness of the workforce in general and the mental wellbeing of the individual, benefiting the society at large.

MCA connects to these findings and states that prevention is always better than to cure and shifted their regular consultancy work towards the specialized programs connected to the demands of psychosocial care during these enduring times. 

The Mindful Caribbean Agency  partnership consisting of three registered psychologists on St.Maarten: Miranda Veltman, Carmencita Chemont and Alexandra van Luijken and can tap into their combined workexperience of more than half a century with guidance of human behavior, working towards mental well-being and trauma-therapy. All three partners are certified mindfulness trainers. 

Because of the Covid-19 MCA would like to offer its support by offering part of their programs with 50% discount. The mindfulness course especially will help deal with stress and boost immune system and is offered online. For questions about discounts and our packages, or registration for the dates the upcoming mindfulness groups, contact MCA via the information below. 

For businesses or individuals to get more information or to request a tailor-fit proposal for their organization, Mindful Caribbean Agency can be contacted via their website: www.mcacaribbean.com, their email: info@mcacaribbean.comor telephone: +1721 5803114 / 5801977 / 5883050. 

Mindfulness toward COVID19

How to deal mindful with COVID19

Being confronted with the spreading of Covid-19 leading the whole world to come to a shrieking halt and as a consequence unimaginable changes in daily life, never before did we apply socializing with potentially life-saving physical distance, staying at home all the time and having extra care and concerns for the elderly and vulnerable in society, while struggling with the unpredictability in time and impact on health and economic situation. The realization that this is happening all around the world, on the one side does make you feel you’re not alone in this, on the other side, makes you realize how much help the whole wide world is needing at the moment and for time to come. I am professionally challenged, working as a psychologist, and switching and adjusting to the online world to make it mine and my clients.

The world is changing from one hour to the next. The confrontation with these changes puts a demand on us adults, but also the influence on our youth is not to be underestimated. And while the world seems to have stopped moving, the world of especially the school-children seems to have sped up to a level that keeps them stuck on their computer 24/7 for learning and socializing purposes, while sports and hobbies are ruled out till further notice. This contradictive movement in slowing down while speeding up at the same time, triggers many questions, of which many without a clear answer in this unprecedented situation.

A reflection on what I have learned the last couple of weeks, involving myself with research results, personal reports and experiences described from around the world, as well as common sense, is used to attempt to formulate answers to the questions. In order to support to the need for balance and the need to guide our young people around us. Which resulted in a short summary of my view on how to go about this.

– Online working time counts double! 

Effectiveness with online working compared to the office or a classroom situation seems to need an adjustment: Log in less hours online in order to balance out the higher level of energy it takes from you compared to working hours in the office or classroom. 

– Building resilience

When being confronted with a crisis, especially one with a worldwide effect as currently experiencing due to the COVID-19 spread, it is important to take time to process this. To be able to process this and deal with all the adjustments and consequences for daily life, you need a level of rest and energy. Give yourself the gift of rest and relaxation, to counterbalance the concerns and worries and will prepare you better to explore the unknown territories the world is confronted with. To have energy, you will have to safe some! Allow yourself ways to charge! Do less, slow down, before you can speed up.

In order to build resilience and prepare better for the changes we are confronted with, while our normal routines are out of the window, pay more attention to:

  • Physical exercise (you can do this inside or around the house)
  • Keep in heart-full contact with your loved ones via the different ways we have these days beside physical closeness.
  • Stay in contact the same digital ways, with your neighbors and people you normally see on a regular basis.
  • Engage in relaxing activities, that are preferably creative: music, painting, clay or handicraft… try something new if you are not used to do this type of action.
  • Take rest, build a routine!  Make sure to sleep sufficient hours and your biological clock will benefit from keeping a routine whereby a balance between tasks that needs to be done and tasks that can be done and allows for FREE time. It seems especially the free time that is the last on the list, while in these stress full times, it should be first on the list. It deserves a special place in your schedule!
  • Support Employers, business leaders, teachers and other group or teamleaders : offer your people to have their attention for those matters described above.
  • Slow down on your expectations and adjust curriculum and workload if you have to. This will pay back in more effective work in less time and more relaxed and flexible people around you that will not run into a burn-out!

For all: This is the time to be supportive to each other and show compassion! We are all in troubled water and what better way to sail these unchartered waters than to work together? Togetherness is what counts, while physically distancing, in our hearts we can keep each other close!

MCA Coach, Alexandra van Luijken