Moments of Transition - Priscilla M. Koop, PhD

Photo courtesy of Hannah Marsh

Photo courtesy of Hannah Marsh

Many years ago, I saw this sign in the window of a small business: “I don’t take my problems with me when I leave the office. I have a complete set of them at home.” The memory makes me smile, although behind this sentiment lies a very real challenge. When we carry our work-related concerns home with us and vice versa, we may notice that we are never fully present wherever we find ourselves.

Moving between home and work, of course, represents a major transition. What about the smaller transitions that occur over the course of a day? Many of my colleagues are healthcare professionals who work with multiple patients in a row. How does one be fully present with the current patient, as opposed to ruminating about the patient just seen or worrying about the patient to be seen next, especially when said patients have complex or unresolved problems? How does one mindfully transition from one task or project to another?

Of course, the whole point of mindfulness is to focus on wherever we are at any given time, and on whatever is happening in this moment. This is a simple matter, but definitely not easy to do. Undone tasks, unfinished projects, unresolved concerns have a way of visiting us at inopportune moments. So how do we help ourselves?

An important component of working with this challenge is to recognize transitions when we are in them, and to consciously and explicitly set aside the concerns associated with one place prior to moving ahead, engaging in the cognitive equivalent of closing files on the computer at the end of a day’s work. Some people, in fact, like to use the image of closing files as they move from one project to another. Others find that by focusing on the experience of the transition itself - the drive from work to home, for example - they are better able to leave behind where they've been; the transition becomes its own mindfulness practice, allowing for a space and opportunity to ground oneself in the present moment.

When transitions involve moving from one place to another, doorways can be enormously helpful - intentionally leaving one place and arriving at another, we can give ourselves the gift of arriving here and now.

The invitation to you is to take note of the transitions in your day, to notice how you make them, and to consider how well your current practices serve. What alternatives might you like to explore?

Priscilla M. Koop, PhD is an MBSR teacher and a consultant with the Mindfulness

A New Year! A New You? - Hannah Marsh

Photo courtesy of Hannah Marsh

Photo courtesy of Hannah Marsh

Around this time of year, there are many messages of self-transformation. Some are inspiring reminders that each year, each moment, is a new beginning. Others, less helpfully, tap into our insecurities, the things we dislike about ourselves, and offer up an image of a better future - "A new you!" This version of self-transformation depends on dissatisfaction with the present. It suggests that to be happy, we need to become a new and different person than we already are.

I'd like to offer an alternative:

What if we started this year, as we do our MBSR classes, by saying, "There is more right with you than wrong with you"?

What if, instead of a to-do list of resolutions, we each told ourselves, "I am enough"?

What if, instead of striving toward an imagined future, we listened to the very centre of our being and asked ourselves, "What is it that I really want"? What matters most deeply, in this moment?

From this inner listening, we might find our truest intentions, "the noblest aspirations of our heart" (Ajahn Pavaro). This year, I invite you to stand firm, honouring what matters most deeply to you. For me, right now, what matters most is connection - to the world around me, to the people I love, to my own good self. I invite you to join me, standing firm in our noblest of intentions, following them with great patience and self-compassion, remembering we are not alone. 

Hannah Marsh is a consultant with the Mindfulness

Practice before Teaching Mindfulness - Priscilla M. Koop, PHD, MSC(A), BN

Practice before Teaching: The Importance of Having Our Own Meditation Practice Before Teaching Mindfulness to Others

From time to time, the Mindfulness receives a request to teach a group of people how to teach others how to be mindful. When we ask for a bit of background and find out that the people we are being asked to teach do not know much about mindfulness, do not have a mindfulness practice and are not prepared to develop one, but simply want to learn how to teach others (often children) to be mindful, we respectfully and compassionately decline the request. We do this knowing full well that the people we are declining to teach are being pressured by their administrators to offer the “new, best thing” (mindfulness) to their own patients or pupils. We also know that by declining to teach them, we may be missing an opportunity to share our love of mindfulness with people who are curious and open to learning. Furthermore, we are fully aware that there are people who are prepared to take up the opportunities we have declined. The purpose of this column is to explore this situation, the thinking behind our declining these requests and some thoughts about potential solutions.

At its simplest level, the request to be taught how to teach something that the learners are not themselves familiar with seems somewhat baffling. Can you imagine being taught how to teach any other subject without first being familiar with the subject itself? Can you imagine a teacher learning how to teach arithmetic to first-graders without first being utterly familiar with mathematics well beyond the level being taught? In the same vein, at the, we believe that being familiar with the experience of developing and maintaining a personal mindfulness practice is an important prerequisite to learning how to teach it to others.

Having our own mindfulness practice allows us to appreciate the work that we are asking our class participants to do. Home practice during the eight-week program typically takes 60 to 90 minutes per day. Our participants are busy people and finding that amount of time to devote to something as challenging as learning to meditate can sometimes seem overwhelming.  As teachers who have developed and are maintaining our own practice, we can empathize with the challenges our participants face.

Having a mindfulness practice is an important resource for another reason. This resource not only offers the content of what we teach, but the process by which we teach. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “The interesting thing about this work is that we (teachers) don’t really do anything for them (participants). If we tried, I think we would fail miserably. Instead, we invite them to do something radically new for themselves, namely to experiment with living intentionally from moment to moment” (1990, p. 19). This way of teaching requires a high level of sensitivity and a deep understanding of the work of developing mindfulness. Both of these characteristics come out of the teacher’s own mindfulness practice. No offering of tips, techniques or helpful hints would allow us to assist people in learning how to teach mindfulness without their having a deep understanding about what mindfulness is and how it is developed without their first having their own meditation practice.

You may have heard the story of “swimology” – a parable about the value of having knowledge about a subject and having the skills to put knowledge into practice ( Although knowledge of a subject is perhaps more important than that parable might imply, certainly having the ability to use that knowledge is important in ways that can literally save your life, according to the parable. The skills or aptitude for mindfulness comes from regular practice. The aptitude that comes from having a mindfulness practice is an important component of teaching mindfulness skills to others. The swimology parable ends with these words: “You may study all the "-ologies" of the world, but if you do not learn swimology, all your studies are useless. You may read and write books on swimming, you may debate on its subtle theoretical aspects, but how will that help you if you refuse to enter the water yourself? You must learn how to swim” (

So, knowledge and skill are important for the mindfulness teacher, and they begin with “entering the water”; developing and maintaining the mindfulness practice before teaching others. This foundation is considered so important for teachers of mindfulness that it is written into the competencies for teachers of mindfulness-based courses (Crane, Kuyken, Williams, Hastings, Cooper & Fennell, 2012) and is a pre-requisite and ongoing requirement by the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts for anyone pursuing certification as an MBSR teacher.

So, how do we meet the needs of people who are sufficiently interested in mindfulness to want to offer it to their patients or students, but who don’t have their own practice? Do we have an obligation to help them in some way that honours their interest in mindfulness and that retains the integrity of mindfulness itself? These are questions that a number of mindfulness teachers explore and discuss on a regular basis. Stay tuned for a discussion about the possibilities.

Written by Priscilla M. Koop, PHD, MSC(A), BN            
Consultant, The Mindfulness Institute
For more information, see About Us                                                                                                  


Author Unknown. (n.d.). Swimology. (retrieved April 6, 2016).

Crane, R.S., Kuyken, W., Williams, J.M.G., Hastings, R.P. & Cooper, L., & Melanie J. V. Fennell, M.J.V. (2012). Competence in teaching mindfulness-based courses: Concepts, development and assessment. Mindfulness, 3, 76–84

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness, Delacorte, NY.

Reflections - Catherine L. Phillips, MD

I’d like to share some reflections from the past few months, emerging from the MSC program. In MBSR we become aware of how our inner attitudes affect our experience- and we learn to recognize when our attitudes may serve us well, and when we might be better served by attitudes that are more “life affirming”. Many of us find it much easier to offer kindness, patience, acceptance or compassion to others than we do to ourselves- as though we are somehow immune to the need for these attitudes, or are undeserving of them. I have found the practice of Mindful Self Compassion to be life changing, and am now practicing the “Golden Rule” bi-directionally- “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and “Do unto yourself as you would (ideally) do unto others”.

I’d like to share with you what for me was the most powerful exercise over the 5 days of MSC. For one of the practices, Michelle introduced us to an exercise in Compassionate Self Talk.  Expecting to encounter an inner block, as I followed the instructions I started writing to myself the words that Michelle gave us as examples: “I love you. I don’t want you to suffer”. I kept writing, curious to see what might emerge. I was surprised as words spontaneously flowed from deep within me:

I support you

I want you to shine brightly- to be seen for who you are

To allow yourself to emanate

To birth yourself moment by moment

To feel safe and supported in your not knowing

To trust your feet will land on the ground

I am here for you; venture forth

Experiment with being

Go deeper into who you are to bring this into the world

Have fun

I am part of you- your grounding, your footing

I am always here- you need only remember, to feel my support

I love you.

I felt this deeply- this well within me of kindness and compassion that I so often extend to others; I felt deeply anchored in and bathed in this myself. I felt loved. I felt whole.

 We each deserve the same kindness and support that we would wish to offer a cherished loved one. In remembering more often to offer this to myself, I have become increasingly aware of when I live in a manner supportive to my wellbeing, and when I do not. From love stems a desire to relieve suffering- which means releasing of things that are not supportive of living with ease.

So often we turn away from ourselves- with business, work- the rationalizations are endless. Just as we are advised to apply our own oxygen mask in an airplane before assisting others, kindness and compassion can only be easily extended to others to the degree we have these in our own lives. What more solid a base to live from than your own inner reservoir of kindness and compassion- starting at home, with oneself.

I invite you to explore Dr. Kristin Neff and Chris Germer’s writings on Self Compassion, and to reflect on how this simple practice might powerfully and positively impact you and your life this year.

Warm Best Wishes for a Happy, Healthy New Year!

Catherine L. Phillips, MD, FRCP(C) is the Founder and Director of The Mindfulness                  

For more information, see About Us.

Loving-Kindness Meditation - Catherine L. Phillips, MD

Photo Courtesy of Brad Stewart

Photo Courtesy of Brad Stewart

In this meditation we will practice generating and directing compassion towards ourselves and others.

Start in a comfortable position, your posture embodying qualities you would like infused throughout this meditation and in your day-to-day life. These may include solidity, grace, poise, strength, clarity, gentleness, kindness or dignity – however these feel for you! Allow yourself to sink into your body, bringing awareness to what it feels like to be sitting, with the air flowing in and the air flowing out as you embody these qualities.

Allowing everything to be exactly as it already is. Allowing sounds to come and go just as they are. Allowing physical sensations to come and go exactly as they are. Allowing thoughts to come and go exactly as they are...and if you notice your attention carried off by thoughts or other distractions, simply noting this with acceptance, and gently bringing awareness back to the present moment.

When you are ready, and in your own good time, bring to your mind and heart the memory and image of some being for whom or by whom you have felt love or loved. This being could be someone from your past or present, a friend, family member, or even a pet. Holding an image of this being in your mind, allow yourself to feel the kindness or love you experienced at some moment in time with this being. Allowing yourself to experience the good intentions and love of this being towards you as in your mind’s eye you open to, and receive these well wishes from them:

May you be safe. May you be free from inner and outer harm. May you be healthy. May you be happy.  May you live with ease. May you be free from anger, pain, and suffering. May you be filled with peace, joy, and compassion for yourself and for others.

Continuing to hold this being in your heart as you continue to generate feelings of kindness, love and compassion. And now, holding this being in this state of love as you direct these well wishes towards them:

May you be safe. May you be free from inner and outer harm. May you be healthy. May you be happy. May you be free from anger, pain and suffering. May you live with ease. May you be filled with peace, joy, and compassion for yourself and for others.

As you continue to sit in the presence of this benevolent being allowing this love and compassion to envelope you both, directing this same loving kindness and well wishes towards your own self, for you are no less deserving than any other being:

May I be safe. May I be free from inner and outer harm. May I be healthy. May I be happy, May I live with ease. May I be free from anger, pain and suffering. May I be filled with peace, joy, and compassion for myself and for others.

When you're ready, you could now bring to mind a more neutral person from your past or present, and direct this loving kindness and sincere well wishes towards them:

May you be safe. May you be free from inner and outer harm. May you be healthy. May you be happy. May you live with ease. May you be free from anger, pain, and suffering. May you be filled with peace, joy, and loving kindness for yourself and others.

As you continue to generate feelings of kindness and compassion from within, using the image of the first benevolent being to help you do so if needed, bring to mind a less than neutral person, perhaps someone by whom you have felt wronged, or even hurt. And, only if you choose, experimenting now with directing love and well wishes towards this person:

May you be safe. May you be free from inner and outer harm. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be free from anger, pain, and suffering.  May you live with ease. May you be filled with loving kindness for yourself and others.

Offering kindness, gentleness and compassion for yourself as you try this – not necessarily choosing the most difficult person in your life if you feel unready for this, and listening to and respecting your own internal cues and reactions, as you work with yourself just the way you are.

And, if you choose, now expanding this loving kindness to encompass everyone in the same house or perhaps everyone in the same community or city, wishing each and every being:

May you be happy. May you be free from inner and outer harm. May you be healthy. May you live with ease. May you be free from anger, pain, and suffering. May you be filled with peace, joy and loving kindness for yourself and others.

And as we reach the end of this exercise, knowing that at any time you can draw upon this inner reservoir of compassion, of boundless loving kindness, and offer it to yourself and to others in your life at any moment over the course of your day and your life.

Note: You can spend as much or little time on each being as you choose, and individualize the phrases as desired.

Catherine L. Phillips, MD, FRCP(C) is the Founder and Director of The Mindfulness For more information, see About Us.

Answering the Fundamental Question of Mindful Self-Compassion - Steven Hickman, Psy.D.

Photo courtesy of Brad Stewart

Photo courtesy of Brad Stewart

It’s a simple question, really. But one that often brings on a state of perplexed astonishment when someone asks us.

“What do you need?”

Unless we are a sobbing child, rushing to his mother after some sort of sibling transgression, or we are urgently and frantically searching for the restroom in an unfamiliar restaurant, we may have an unusually hard time answering that question.

In a moment of suffering, sorrow, despair or betrayal, can we actually answer the very deep and important question of “What do I need? Right now, in this moment.”

What we often needed as children when we were distressed was to be comforted, reassured that we were still loved and cared for, and soothed by the gentle unconditional touch of a loving parent. We needed someone to kiss our “booboo” when we stumbled and fell. Or to be consoled by a loving embrace when we were excluded from a game of hide-and-seek.

But for many of us, our distress was met by something else, or as we grew older we had difficult or traumatic experiences that disconnected us from our deep need to be loved, accepted and appreciated. For whatever the reason, we have found ourselves removed from a sense of what we really need when we suffer; much of the time, we may not even be aware when we DO suffer. We overlook our fears of being disconnected, unloved or, ironically, overlooked – often by tending to the needs of others instead.

Many of us are quite adept at caring for the needs of those around us. We channel our inner desires to be cared for by caring for others – and when done with a true connection to one’s own heart, this can be a beautiful thing. We often instinctively know just exactly what others need. Our mirror neurons fire wildly when we contact another person’s pain and difficulty, and through that resonance with another person, we are miraculously able to muster up just the right expression of comfort, the perfect words and the much-appreciated offer of kindness or consolation.

But what of the darker moments of our own despair, fear or desperation? What do we need in those moments for ourselves, because this matters, too? We often struggle to answer that question, and as a result, further suffering arises as we resort to less helpful and more destructive ways of meeting that deep inner need to be loved and connected. We even criticize ourselves for having this need, telling ourselves that if we just tried harder, got things right more often (or better yet, if we were perfect), or removed ourselves from contact with others, THEN we would feel OK.

And so it is that a growing number of people find themselves in the Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) course developed by leading self-compassion researcher, Kristin Neff, Ph.D., and noted author and expert on compassion and mindfulness in psychotherapy, Christopher Germer, Ph.D.

MSC could be considered an “antidote” to the shame and self-criticism that many of us bear, and which cripples many of us with self-doubt, fear and self-loathing. By systematically cultivating the ability to be kind and loving to ourselves, especially in those moments of suffering that arise when we feel disconnected, lost, alienated or dismissed, MSC slowly helps restore in each of us our natural capacity to be kind, loving and compassionate to ourselves in the way that we do so effortlessly for others.

One of the first questions that participants ponder in MSC is the curious one of “How would you treat a friend when they are struggling, when they fail or feel inadequate?” Typically, the responses flow quickly and fluidly. And then, when the question turns to how we treat ourselves in those very same situations, the responses are often in stark contrast. Many find that their inner critic is harsh, demanding, dismissive and belittling (often echoing the voices of people from the past who have treated them in this way). When they notice how it feels to be spoken to in this way, it can be a revelation. Some participants exclaim, “I would NEVER talk to someone else like this!”

In fact, this phenomenon is more widespread than one might think. Dove recently dramatized this in a YouTube video where they asked women to write down the things they say to themselves about their appearance. They then set up public conversations between two women in cafes and restaurants where one woman said those same things out loud to her companion. Strangers nearby were horrified and, in some cases, actually interrupted the two actors to comment on how terrible it was that one person would speak to another in such a way!

The MSC program sets about to help participants begin to “warm up the inner conversation” and to cultivate a loving, tender, accepting attitude toward oneself that motivates us out of a desire to be happy and free from suffering, rather than out of perfectionism, fruitless striving, fear and shame. Early research on the program is promising, and the huge existing body of research done by Kristin Neff and others already demonstrates a strong association between self-compassion and a variety of measures of wellbeing and good mental health, as well as the ability to make changes in unhealthy behavior, persist in the face of adversity, and to be perceived more positively in intimate relationships, just to name a few.

If you find it difficult to answer the fundamental question of Mindful Self-Compassion – “What do you need?” – when you are feeling overwhelmed, afraid, sad or fearful, you might benefit from a greater ability to bring kindness to yourself and soothe yourself in these moments, as well as in your daily stressful life. Consider taking the Mindful Self-Compassion course to discover your compassionate inner voice and to find a way to meet yourself in the way in which you tend to meet others, reversing the Golden Rule and doing unto yourself what you would do (and say) to others!

Steven Hickman, Psy.D., is a Clinical Psychologist and Associate Clinical Professor in the UC San Diego Departments of Psychiatry and Family & Preventive Medicine. He is also the Founder and Executive Director of the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. He has been teaching mindfulness, in the form of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, and more recently, Mindful Self-Compassion for 12 years.

We're excited to have Steven in Edmonton this August to co-lead Mindful Self-Compassion: 5-Day Residential Intensive!

Loving the Living with the Love of the Dead - Steven Hickman, Psy.D.

Photo courtesy of Brad Stewart

Photo courtesy of Brad Stewart

I have a wide open day ahead of me here in the San Francisco Bay Area and am eagerly anticipating a welcome return to the coastline of Point Reyes National Seashore and a meandering and rejuvenating drive up the coast through my childhood coastal stomping grounds. One stop along the way might be a brief visit to the seaside grave of my father-in-law, whom I have never met, but who rests in my heart because of what he meant to my beloved wife and the warmth and admiration that flows from her every time she speaks of him. I am the welcome and grateful recipient of his fatherhood in this way.

And so the thought floated up out of my waking moments: “What if we could be with the living breathing people in our lives, the way we are with the dead?” That may sound a little strange, but bear with me for a moment.

How are we when we stand there awkwardly looking down at whatever tangible marker might have been placed as a proxy to the vibrant existence of a family member or friend? We feel a certain presence of the deceased, but largely our attention is broad enough to include a kind of warm attentiveness to our own selves as we recall the person who once walked and talked and breathed with us.

We are quiet, respectful, patient, receptive and tender in our attention. We may feel the reverberations of grief and loss that the person’s passing brought to us, but it is a kind of nostalgia (the roots of that word referring to “the pain of remembering”) that bears the mellow sweetness of the time that cliché has told us heals all wounds. And we are finally free of the constricting web of a change agenda for the other. The “if only” and the conditional melt away with the reality of the absolute and the imperative of this very moment as it is, without holding or pushing away, even if we would like to do so.

We may also ride the harsher waves of hurts, resentments, wounds that never really healed, anger at abandonment, fear of life without this person who simply desired what we all desire: to have peace, satisfaction and joy in life, no matter how he or she went about seeking that. But we are finally and ultimately aware that absolutely nothing can be done but to meet this suffering within ourselves with some degree of kindness and gentleness, and perhaps the wisps of forgiveness. Forgiveness of this person who was ultimately and inevitably human, flawed and subject to failure, mistakes, desire and delusion, and vulnerable to the reality of mortality.

And perhaps some opportunity for forgiveness of ourselves is also present in the space of dwelling in the presence of the dead and buried. Forgiveness of ourselves as we realize that we are the only ones that have been truly and completely bequeathed to our daily and lifelong care. If we are to experience healing, change, improvement, relief and release, it will come from deep within us when we shift our relationship to the outer world and tend warmly and compassionately to what is within us.

How would it be if we had tea with a friend and sat with them as we sit with the dead: delicately attuned to our own experience, reflective but fully present, riding the gentle undulations of the heart as the encounter unfolds word by word, expression by expression, emotion by emotion. Is there, in the end, a more respectful and self-compassionate way of connecting with those we love than by connecting warmly with our own tender beating heart and treating it in the same warm way we treat a heart in its eventual repose?

Previously published on Published here with permission of the author.

Steven Hickman, Psy.D., is a Clinical Psychologist and Associate Clinical Professor in the UC San Diego Departments of Psychiatry and Family & Preventive Medicine. He is also the Founder and Executive Director of the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. He has been teaching mindfulness, in the form of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, and more recently, Mindful Self-Compassion for 12 years.

We're excited to have Steven in Edmonton this August to co-lead Mindful Self-Compassion: 5-Day Residential Intensive!

Mindful Medical Practice - now published!

Mindful Medical Practice: Clinical Narratives and Therapeutic Insights is now available in hardcover and eBook!

This book - a collection of stories and insights about bringing mindfulness into medicine - is edited by our colleague Dr. Patricia Dobkin, who teaches at McGill's Programs in Whole Person Care.

Our Founder and Director, Dr. Catherine L. Phillips, is proud to be involved in this important project as a contributing author. Her chapter, "The Mindful Psychiatrist: Being Present with Suffering," uses her firsthand experience to illustrate how mindfulness can be brought into the therapeutic relationship, to the benefit of both patient and physician.