|August 14, 2014
CSKT department learns to be Mindful of all things
By Lailani Upham
CSKT tribal social services staff participates in a mindfulness activity where they are tuned into listening to a bell and focusing on the number of rings they are able to hear. A difficult task that forces one to foucs on one sound while discriminating other sounds. (Lailani Upham photo)
BLUE BAY — Monday kicked off a week of mindfulness training for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Social Services staff — a practice that helps to develop awareness of the present moment and choosing a more positive thought process in every day life.
It is the second series of training for staff. The first was held in May at Salish Kootenai College, but this round was at the grounds of Blue Bay tribal campgrounds on the east shore of Flathead Lake.
Thao Le, associate professor at the University of Hawaii and her assistant Don Trieu conducted the guiding.
Don Trieu, a trained mindfulness practice and meditation teacher circles staff during a mindfulness exercise where staff focus on how many times they hear the ring with other noises in the background. Two out of twelve got it right on. (Lailani Upham photo)
Thao says she has been practicing mindfulness all her life because of her father’s impartation, however, on a professional level, she has been practicing or teaching it for five years.
Trieu has been practicing meditation and mindfulness for 20 years and has been trained through the Plum Village, the Mindfulness Practice Centre.
Plum Village is a monastery for monks and nuns and a Buddhist practice center for lay people that were founded in 1982 by the Vietnamese Zen-Master Thich Nhat Hnh (Thay).
Folks all over (the world) are stressed out to the max, said Le, and the question many have is, “How do we settle our thoughts?”
Mindfulness is the key.
The first group of the CSKT Tribal Social Services department on Monday and Tuesday dove into in-depth mindfulness training. The other half of the department will have training at the end of the week at the beautiful serene Blue Bay tribal campground. (Lailani Upham photo)
“Bringing awareness to what you are doing – in everything,” she said is the gist of mindfulness. Then choosing to water the right seeds is the next step, she says.
In a position as social services, one needs the tools to water the right positive seeds and keep a balance in thoughts and emotions.
The other aim for the training is for staff to have the tools and knowledge to work with children and families in helping them with mindfulness practice, says Constance Morigeau, CSKT Tribal Social Services Director.
The purpose for the transporting the mindfulness trainings from the “Plum Village” philosophy to the Flathead Reservation – is to give staff/participants the insight of cultivating the practices of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life and being awaken to the present moment in order to embrace the body and mind to harmonious energy.
Thao Le explains through diagram how a thought manifests into a habit and builds character and determines a person destiny because of a thought one may entertain to be reality. (Lailani Upham photo)
It’s not as easy as it sounds – however, it can be a simple as it sounds if one just takes the moment to try it out.
The bell sound exercise was used as a metaphor of every day life where people are distracted by other thoughts and fears and lose the ability to focus and pay attention to the truth. “When you cultivate awareness – you are more able to see and hear the truth,” says Le.
“Usually truth comes out of silence,” said Le.
“We think we know (the truth) while our thoughts are so busy. We think this is the truth or that is, when we have distractions,” she added. By training our minds to focus and to remind ourselves of our thoughts and to cultivate them into awareness is the key step to building a skillful way of thinking positive.
Trieu briefs participants on the tools of mindfulness walking prior to the activity. Trieu says when walking to work at not being in your thoughts, but in the walk itself. “Keep your senses on the smells, the sounds and noticing the lake or birds or whatever you see on your walk,” he added.
Le says many of the times our choices from the thoughts we carry are things that happened in the past or decisions or reactions we made in the past. “We gravitate to what is familiar, and maybe it worked then,” she added. However, it doesn’t mean it will work in your present situation.
It’s all about perception. “That’s why it is important to stay attentive to your thoughts.”
In actuality, thoughts are like passing clouds, she says.
“We react and think it is a real thing, but a thought comes and a thought goes, she added. “You are usually reacting to your habits that have been developed over time,” she explained.
The downfall of that is – it’s usually not an accurate. It’s a perceptual habitual thought.
A metaphorical example she shared was that of a stream. “Every time it goes by it’s a different moment. It just looks the same.”
Trieu demonstrates “psychological flexibility” with a participant using Kung-Fu principle of resisting and relaxing and working with the resistance, not against. (Lailani Upham photo)
It is the same with thoughts she said.
However, she clarified those bad habits of thinking are not actually “bad,” but “unskillful habits.”
The unskillful habits are sometimes thoughts that come from our roots and environment; such as: ancestors, personal history, family, and community. Nevertheless, each chooses what seeds they want to water in their lives.
When negative seeds are nourished they become weeds in our lives and through mindfulness practice folks become aware and learn to identify and then take care of the weeds. “We want to be healthy,” she added.
“We are responsible for our own garden.”
Whatever seed it is in a person’s life, whether good or unskillful, given the right circumstance – it will manifest; and usually the familiar one wins out, she explained.
Participants during the mindfulness walking exercise walk in silence and tune into breathing and other senses focusing steps on walking and relaxing. (Lailani Upham photo)
During the “mindfulness walking” activity, Trieu briefed the group the idea was to “just walk” with no endpoint in mind, “The destination is the here and now.” The reason is so the focus is on the breathing and the sensation that comes from that, not the busy thoughts that bombard us continually.
He explained it is a mindfulness practice that can be used every day in every moving moment, to the car, office, home, in the home. By practicing the tool in this way it can strengthen the mindfulness practice in a person’s life.
While walking he says to release the thoughts and focus on the smells and sounds.
Learning to “bend and relax” is what Le and Trieu called, “psychological flexibility.”
Trieu used an example of Kung Fu and resistance. “You have to learn to bend and relax and work with it not against it. It is the same way with your thoughts, so you’re not so rigid in your thoughts – you learn to bend and relax.”
Participants were broken up in teams to build a pyramid with cups, using only strings and rubberbands, to empower team work. (Lailani Upham photo)
Le named the seven thinking errors with the help of group participations; thinking-faults that cripple minds from the truth or clarity: Blaming; self-centeredness; psychic power; inevitability; innocence/victim; assuming the worst; and hostile intentions.
By developing an awareness of these errors will help one get in touch with reality.
Blaming, for example, is a huge trip-up; it diverts attention and keeps us from seeing the other person’s perspective. Mindfulness helps to acknowledge all possibilities in a situation, she says.
“Pause and have that space to let it go. Blaming is hard to let go of because of the rigidity (of our thinking),” she added.
The psychic power she is speaking of is the how people think they have the power to read other’s minds. Another words, being judgmental.
Inevitability is the idea that the worst is going to happen.
Thao Le talks with the group about seven “thinking errors” everyone possesses and says by developing an awareness of these thoughts over time they can become less habitual if they are not fed or nurtured at the start. (Lailani Upham photo)
She said no matter what level you are at, everyone flubs up and possess the errors, but becoming aware and knowing they are there and what to do with them is the beginning of calmer you.
Over time of becoming aware of the unskillful thoughts the errors become less habitual – because you are not feeding it, she said.
The mindfulness training is part of the “Circle of Trust Suicide Prevention Program,” and is funded by The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services SAMHSA grant.
For more information on mindfulness practice and training, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.