Questions & Answers About Mindfulness-Based Counseling

Question: What Is Mindfulness-Based Counseling?

Linda Lade: Mindfulness-based counseling is a method that combines the practice of meditation with counseling. Meditation instruction is given to the client and is practiced as a part of each session, along with regular counseling. Through the practice of meditation, the client learns to be more present (mindful) during sessions and in general and to sharpen their insight into the issues that they have brought into the counseling process. For most clients, sharpened awareness and insight helps the client go deeper into issues while feeling supported and heard.

Question: How does it work?

Linda Lade: We start with basic mindfulness meditation, a technique for training the mind. Our goal is to sit with ourselves and discover the self-existing state of calm abiding that is always present underneath the chatter and noise in our minds and the activity occurring outside of ourselves. We learn to sit in a good posture, place our mind on the breath, and notice (without judgment) what arises within and around us. As the client’s awareness grows, her insight into challenges and issues also arises and the counseling process naturally deepens. Using these discoveries, the client develops the muscles of heart and mind to work with whatever situations are arising. Clients are also encouraged and supported in developing a meditation practice beyond counseling and additional tools and resources are provided.

Is meditation a Buddhist thing?

Linda Lade: Yes, though meditation is also a part of the contemplative tradition of most religions and secular contemplative traditions. In the Buddhist tradition, meditation is used to help people discover the true nature of reality. Buddhist texts illustrate how these powerful practices show people how to work with suffering and impermanence, as well as develop compassion for themselves and others. In counseling, the client brings her own set of beliefs, which are always honored, to this closer examination of our human experience. Using the tools of mindfulness, the client develops the muscles of heart and mind to work with whatever situations are arising.

What kind of changes can I expect in myself as a result of mindfulness-based counseling?

Linda Lade: I notice that my clients often see their lives from a wider perspective and become more open to options for change and feel less stuck. It becomes easier for them to recognize emotional patterns and work with them, therefore making small behavioral changes in the present that lead to more desirable outcomes over time. They experience a greater sense of power over themselves as opposed to control over the outer conditions of their lives. This often manifests in greater self-confidence.

Working with body awareness, emotions, and persistent thought patterns through meditation and counseling can help the client see herself in a new light. Although a client may come to counseling with one or more stated problems, the underlying goal is to learn to work with herself more effectively and restore a sense of inner balance. Meditation also fosters a sense of connection to self and others. Experiencing greater connection is key to feeling supported and part of life rather than isolated and alone when facing problems.

Meditation practice, my clients tell me, gives them tools to address things on the spot and permission to slow down and take time for themselves. A former client told me that meditation made him feel more alive and also to remember to simply breathe at moments that signaled the onset of anxious feelings. Mindfulness-based counseling is a path to these and many other potential benefits.

When Should I Seek Counseling?

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society” ~ Krishnamurti

Assessing the need to seek help for life’s challenges is a tough decision for many of us. Often we have to feel desperate before reaching out to a professional. Very few people go through life without encountering problems that test our limits and make us wonder how we should move forward. If we are lucky, we have a strong support system and people we trust to whom we can turn. However, we may find ourselves in need of a sounding board, someone with whom we can brainstorm our options, and, on a more basic level, who will listen to us, someone who doesn’t have a previous history with us.

We may wonder if we are crazy or if the situation in which we find ourselves is the problem. People who have grown up in troubled families that couldn’t provide the safety and security that children need to become stable adults often profit from counseling, gaining a new understanding of themselves and developing improved relationship skills. Sometimes life throws us a curve ball that would knock the blocks out from under even the most stable individual and there is a need to just be heard while moving through a complex, even terrifying emotional landscape until balance is restored. And some of us just want to develop ourselves further and explore those deep questions that are not always easy to articulate. These are just a few of the scenarios that cause people to seek counseling.

We are fortunate to be living at a time when society is beginning to turn the corner on understanding mental health. Definitions of health are expanding and many professionals are questioning the limitations of the psychological paradigms that have governed the field for the past few decades. Emerging paradigms include better understanding of the relationship between the body’s brain chemistry and behavior (neuroscience); new ways of looking at addictive behaviors that incorporate a person’s history of trauma and disconnection from others and treats deeper emotional needs along with the behavioral change being addressed. Attention is given to a wider range of human needs and struggles that can be assessed and strengthened, including fundamental patterns of eating and sleeping, how we relate to others, and what gives us a sense of meaning, purpose, and connection in a globally connected, technology-driven society.

The time to seek counseling is when we recognize that we need help to grow, to stabilize, or to find peace within ourselves. When we do, there must be a good match between the counselor and counselee. A skilled professional will be trustworthy, sensitive, and congruent. We will know we’ve found the right person if we feel truly heard, challenged but understood, and willing to do the work.

Timing

When I was growing up, I thought my name was, “Hurry Up.” It seemed that I was always too slow for what was expected of me. My mother often seemed to be urging me to pick up the pace. Maybe that’s the fate of the youngest child in the family. Everyone else is taller, faster, and more experienced, while the baby tries to keep up with the big people. I think there is more to it, though. Each of us has our own pace, our own inner timing that we must somehow correlate with the agreed-upon timing in “the world.”

I don’t understand morning people, for instance, but for years I lived by their rules. As a young mother and classroom teacher (many years ago), I had to have my children dressed, fed, and delivered and be seen standing outside my own classroom door at the ungodly hour of 8 a.m. I became my own mother as I urged my sleepy children to put on their shoes and eat breakfast so we could make it on time. I found this routine extremely stressful and worried that I was passing on my “hurry sickness” to my children. As a midnight rambler (my words for being a night person), I longed for unhurried quiet in my life and to be able to feel more relaxed on a daily basis.

Meditation has been my path toward finding that state of being. In meditation, time becomes fluid. During the early stages of learning to sit with our own minds, we often experience the pace that we are living in the outer world first. Many people become aware of their “busy mind” that is popping with lots of thoughts and time can feel full and fast. Eventually, though, as we practice calm abiding, our minds settle and, with that, time also begins to feel different. Where ten minutes once felt like it might never end, an hour can pass with little sense of “how long” it lasted. As we become more attuned to our inner state of being, outer world timing is less of a negative stressor. I would posit, in fact, that through learning my own timing, I’ve become better able to handle clock time and be “on time” in the outer world. Being more at ease and understanding my own timing, I feel less adversarial toward the forces that seem at odds with my slow and quiet way of being. I know that this has a positive influence on my mental, emotional, and physical health altogether. At last I am keeping up by staying true to my own timing, which, it turns out, is showing up for this moment to the best of my ability.

If you practice meditation, have you noticed a change in your own timing?

Google (Inside) Yourself

Am I the last person to learn about Google’s Search Inside Yourself, a course that offers employees training in emotional intelligence through meditation? I heard about it a couple of days ago in a professional group to which I belong. I looked it up later and read a few articles about it. Here’s one.

It was one of those moments (like many of us have had) when I recognized an idea I’d had years ago blossoming under the auspices of someone who was in the right place at the right time and it took off.

As a long time meditator, I was very aware of how people could benefit from developing the skills of mindfulness and attention: stress reduction, improved learning, being present to others, to name a few. As a teacher, counselor, and administrator in public education systems, I wanted to introduce meditation in schools, but with the roots of meditation coming from Buddhism, there were issues of separation of church and state (as well as suspicion of and resistance to something new). I was able to offer a few workshops to faculty and give talks in classes from time to time and interest was high, but that was a few years ago and my timing was a little ahead of the cultural shift.

Google’s Chade-Meng Tan, an engineer, saw the need for employee balance within the pressurized environment of technological innovation and creativity to which Google aspires and often sets the bar for the contemporary workplace. Google’s leadership deserves credit for implementing Mr. Tan’s Search Inside Yourself course into its curriculum, where it has been wildly popular since 2007 and has been replicated nationally and internationally. Truly, we live in a time when emotional intelligence and understanding the mechanics of the mind are being recognized as necessary components of a healthy, balanced person. According to this 2012 New York Times article, employees have benefited.

Now I work for myself, integrating mindfulness meditation into my counseling practice. I am also partnering with Mr. Marc Anderson, who created the M2 Foundation to bring mindfulness meditation into Twin Cities schools and to businesses that aspire to create healthy workplaces. Like Google, we are committed to teaching these skills, which constitute compassionate self-care. Contact me if you are interested in mindfulness-based counseling for yourself or your school or business.

Thawing Out

I’ve had the sweet opportunity to care for my young grandson about once a week since he was a few months old. He’s almost 11 months old now and, though he fights getting into his stroller for our walks (he’s hip to the ruse of lulling him into taking a nap), once he’s strapped in, he seems to enjoy exploring the wonderland outside his usual domain. This is a northern suburb and many of the homes in the neighborhood are mid-century, built on large, wooded lots with an eye to preservation of the woods, marshes, ponds, lakes, and attendant wildlife.

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I noticed on our walks during the previous few weeks a physical and perceptual barrier between myself and the life force of nature around me, partly because I was plugged up due to spring allergies, but also due to the physical armoring of contraction that my body uses to get through the winter. There was something else, though, another factor that took me awhile to identify. It was a sensory blockage that comes from spending a great deal of time indoors interacting with screens and listening to the sounds of dishwashers, heating systems, washers and dryers, and, by living in the city, being surrounded by the cacophony of cars, fire trucks, and general city noise.

Literally, it took several mindful walks to attune myself to the sounds of nature, including really being able to “hear” a level of quiet that is unavailable where I live. Yesterday, I finally finished thawing out. My grandson, who had succumbed to the stroller ruse, slept through most of the walk, but we spent time listening to the frogs and crickets, the wind rustling through the lilac trees and upon the water, a whole different rhythm of sound plus a visual field filled with natural movements. I felt something shift in my body and mental field. I settled. Some part of me that hardens during the contracting cold of this climate softened and I felt an aliveness in my body and mind that happens when I “remember” my true nature.

On an inner level, I think that something like the thawing out process occurs as a result of sitting meditation. The list of external stimuli in our lives is endless and you don’t need me to make a list for you. Without a means to check in with ourselves, we can easily stay frozen in a permanent state of inner winter, unable to soften and appreciate our lives fully and simply in the moment. For me, the “mindfulness” part of mindfulness meditation is remembering just that and taking the time to practice, whether it’s on the cushion or pushing my grandson’s stroller.

Empathy and Compassion

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” HH Dalai Lama

Yesterday I attended a one-day urban meditation retreat. Our group is loosely affiliated and made up of people from various traditions. We ended our day with a discussion that came around to the subject of happiness. We took a little time to sort through what we meant by “happiness” and loosely agreed that it’s a state we reach when we let go of getting something for ourselves or of being stimulated through some form of entertainment. It’s more like a moment of being at rest in oneself, what we label inner peace, during which there is no grasping and acceptance of things just as they are. It is a state of being.

How does this connect to HHDL’s words above? Empathy, as I posted in my previous article, has the quality of being present with another’s emotions or state of mind. Feeling empathy makes it possible to really sense the suffering (or other emotion) of another human being. So — what is compassion and how is it different from empathy? Compassion, as HHDL’s words suggest, is an action step. Through opening one’s heart to experience empathy and remembering one’s own experience of suffering and wanting relief from it, one is called to ask, “What can I do to help alleviate suffering in someone else?” Even a kind thought is a sort of action. Learning to go beyond the “me show” can bring about that kind of “happiness” which I experience as an open space between constantly self-referencing and offering something that might help another. Happiness is not so much a continuous parade of getting what I want as a quiet joy that comes from letting go of what I want and having the intention of being of service in some small way to another sentient being. Interestingly, most people who have a compassion practice of some kind report the development of greater compassion for themselves, as HHDL suggests.

Through basic meditation practice, we gradually build the muscles of awareness and presence. Then insight begins to ripen. Eventually, there is a desire to extend ourselves to others. Empathy and compassion are the natural flowering properties of basic meditation. In the beginning it takes discipline and motivation and, although the first recipient of these efforts (and its gifts) is oneself, everyone benefits.

Empathy and Ego

Do you ever wonder what it takes to get through the day as the President of the United States? Ego gets a bad rap these days and often is misinterpreted in pop psychological and spiritual toss-offs as a negative quality, but we need our egos. We also need to develop empathy or else it’s the “me show” all the time. It’s the balance between a strong, healthy, boundary-setting ego and an open compassionate heart that helps us operate successfully in our relationships with others.

I’m a big supporter of President Obama and often include him in my metta practice.* I can’t imagine what it’s like to stand for and represent all that he does as the first Black president in a country that has deep racist roots and a current revival of the worst of fear-based paranoia buried in the trappings of fringe politics. I like how the President uses humor and plain-speak to address detractors and, of course, Congress. Be sure to listen to his stand-up comedy at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. With a little work on his delivery, he may have a new career here.

I received a letter from President Obama in my e-mail today (we’re close) and this reflection struck me:

When I entered Ms. Hefty’s fifth-grade class at Punahou School in the fall of 1971, I was just a kid with a funny name in a new school, feeling a little out of place, hoping to fit in like anyone else.
The first time she called on me, I wished she hadn’t. In fact, I wished I were just about anywhere else but at that desk, in that room of children staring at me.
But over the course of that year, Ms. Hefty taught me that I had something to say — not in spite of my differences, but because of them. She made every single student in that class feel special.
And she reinforced that essential value of empathy that my mother and my grandparents had taught me. That is something that I carry with me every day as President.

This is a great example of how, through being treated as an important and unique human being, a self-conscious kid experienced empathy from a wise teacher. Through this connection, reinforced by his mother and grandparents, the leader of the Free World developed the qualities that we associate with a highly emotionally intelligent person. I know that I want empathy as a core value in my nation’s leader as well as a healthy ego.

*Metta meditation instructions

Meditation and Me

Welcome to my website! I want to share a few things about myself in case you are considering mindfulness-based counseling and/or learning to meditate with me. My professional history includes many years of teaching, providing counseling and therapy, and higher education administration. That’s the broad brushstroke of my work history, but there is much more to my life and that story tells why I am dedicated to practicing mindfulness-based counseling and teaching meditation to people who are interested.

Meditation has been life-changing for me. I began studying and practicing meditation in my 20s as a student of the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who was instrumental in bringing Tibetan Buddhism to the West. At that time, although I had managed to earn a degree and had achieved some early success, I was a troubled young woman due to a chaotic adolescence and had a history of alcohol and drug abuse. During my early days of meditation practice, I began to:

  • See that the drugs and alcohol that I was using to entertain or escape myself clouded my every day mind and depressed my body
  • Understand my turbulent emotions and realize that the trauma I carried could be faced and eventually dissolved by being present with even the most uncomfortable or distressing feelings
  • Relate to my body more fully and live inside of it rather than numbing out and dressing to mask what was going on inside of me
  • Trust my own intelligence and experience
  • Develop more than the two gears of rebellion or compliance in my relationships with others

As you can see, I love bullet points. There are more, but those early days of practice helped me face the fears that I carried and use my mind to discover alternatives to the self-destructive patterns that had seemed somewhat inevitable. Because of those discoveries, I was confident enough to seek the other help I needed to face my demons.

Meditation is not a panacea. Much like the ads for coconut oil that claim to cure everything, we are now inundated with mindfulness as a buzzword and there is a real danger that it could become the next McTrend and be misunderstood as a simple fix for all our troubles. Yet, for people who are seeking an inner education and who genuinely want to work with their minds, mindfulness meditation is a powerful tool that can literally transform one’s life. I know this to be true because, 40 years later, I’m still practicing and still gaining insight into how to live my life with a great big broken heart. Through meditation, I’ve learned to be more authentic, more willing to be myself, and, by extension, grant that same right to others. By understanding my own suffering, I began to develop compassion and that changed everything. I will write more on compassion in a future post.

Thanks for visiting my site!

What do mindfulness-based counseling and meditation instruction offer?

• Increased awareness and attention through the practice of meditation
• Tools for balancing emotions
• Exploration that can lead to a more integrated sense of self
• Insight that can be applied to relationships and situations
• Resiliency skills for better health and aliveness in the body
• Discovery (or rediscovery) of the natural open awareness that is a part of our being

Of course there are unlimited possibilities for personal growth and each person has a unique set of needs. Direct awareness through mindfulness meditation builds skills that the client can use immediately and also informs the counseling process.

Services

Mindfulness-Based Counseling offered on a sliding fee scale by arrangement.*

Meditation Instruction offered on a sliding fee scale by arrangement.*

*Insurance is not accepted.

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