Russell Kolts Compassion Focused Therapy Interview
This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview with author and professor Russell Kolts
Russell began with an intense study of Buddhism; reading, meditation, and doing retreats after three years, he realized that a compassionate, mindfulness practice had been life changing.
He says that it was the birth of his child about how he was motivated to start a a meditation mindfulness practice after his son was born. He taught compassionate therapy, and since he struggled with negative emotions in his own life such as anger, and irritability. He observed himself not following his own advice. So he deepened his practice. He realized, “if you want your child to become a good parent, become the person you want your child to be”. What message do your children get from their parents? So he started doing meditation practices, and learning from Buddhist teachers like the Dalai Lama.
He was then later also more able to bring what he learned in his meditation practice and into his psychotherapy work work, by focusing on, “Compassion Focused Therapy”. He then had a scientific scaffolding for working with the mind.
Some examples of practices that would work for him in the moment during.
Mindfulness meditation helps notice what is moving in the mind, such as anger and irritation. This practice helped him recognize it earlier, so just by naming the emotion, it reduces it’s hold on the person.
Meditation and cultivation of compassion have gradually transformed his experience so that the destructive emotions came up less, due to ongoing work with with deep awareness.
Switching out from “that’s a bad emotion” and judgments, looking more deeply, what’s going on here, and other habitual responses.
Working with close family members shows that it is not easy to not be reactive.
Insight is hugely trans-formative
From a scientific perspective, those destructive threat emotions such as anger and fear where designed by evolution, so we can make a rapid response.
The compassion work is by seeing how the threatening person also wants to be happy and maybe our goals conflict at that moment. And at that moment. Shifting from judging and labeling to understanding.
Things don’t always go your way. It takes practice to react with compassion and understanding.
He brings mindfulness and compassion into his classes. He has a course on Compassion Focused Therapy, which involves compassion meditation and mindfulness meditation. Students are meditating in the class, because there is just no other way to learn about it.
He sees how it affects the classroom, students feel safer, they can think better, and more reflectively, and they can have dialogue, since there is a container there. It helps the students with difficult course subjects, helps them to center themselves. They don’t necessarily struggle with the problem, but more with the idea, a self-limiting belief. “There’s something wrong with me” is the most threatening idea, very distracting. Meditation helps you recognize these experiences that come and go in the mind, and not necessarily see them as real or true. Notice them, and let them go.
Slowing down their breathing helps the students. They’re not just techniques on the pillow, but at some point it needs to come off the meditation cushion. At some point it has to come into our lives, and begin to transform. It begins to happen behaviorally, and neurologically.
Other Benefits of meditation practices
Russell thinks that because the world moves so quickly, we’re constantly connected. When he was growing up there were just 4 TV channels, now hundreds, tweeting etc, is all wonderful and convenient. But we’re training our brains and minds to expect a certain high level of stimulation. And we’re not designed to function like this all the time. Just sitting and breathing is hard enough! We’ve trained our brains to expect this level of stimulation. To just sit and do only one thing. If you can’t even sit for 5 minutes, its a sign to learn to slow down and be here now, with full focus of one’s mind. And maybe that’s reading, listening, and be fully present is tremendously powerful. If you want to be really good at something, you can’t be dividing your attention. It’s too stressful to maintain that kind of fragmented attention.
We just need to learn to slow down. He orients students on the front end that this is going to be uncomfortable at first to meditate. Key is to start very small, may start with a minute or two minutes, and go up from there. One of the biggest impediments is expectations. Folks don’t realize that it is actually very difficult. So they get frustrated with themselves, and they give up. In the West particularly we move into this self-criticism.
1. One thing we’re doing is to stabilize our attention
2. Training ourselves to see mental experiences and feelings as mental events, and not necessarily the stuff of reality
3. Training ourselves to notice the movement in the mind. Mentions giving a ticker for a finger biter, which helps train themselves to notice when they start doing the biting. Same with mindfulness. From this perspective the distractions are not a problem at all. These are opportunities to notice movement in the mind.
Russell’s focus right now is Compassion Focused Therapy to help people with emotions like anger. He’s currently working on “CFT made simple”, to help clinicians help their clients. They’re doing more research to demonstrate it’s effectiveness. It really helps that the science is beginning to be there, they now have data to demonstrate it.
He’s starting to see increasing interest in institutions. Lots of misconceptions still about compassion, it’s not being “sweet and nice all the time”.
Being sensitive to suffering and help out in an enduring way. It is still hard to pursue compassionate agendas in politics, because the money is not yet going there. We can have both, compassion and a good bottom line.
If you’re interacting with compassion and mindfulness, you can spread that pro-social stuff.
Russell Kolts one tip for dealing with an oncoming destructive emotion.
When we notice, “I’m getting angry, anxious, etc”. Take 30 seconds to a minute. Slowing down the in-breath (in CFT it is called “soothing rhythm breathing”) and the out-breath. And after that ask yourself the question, “what would be most helpful in this situation”? What would I want them to understand? Slowing down the breaths doesn’t make the problem go away, it just softens, gives “that thread stuff”, gives it some space.
Eala Ruby Heart Sitting and Walking Meditation Practitioner Interview
Eala has immersed herself in the healing arts since 1987, taking it up professionally in 1991 and has been a student and daily practitioner of meditation and what she calls, “human soul work” since 1992. In addition to her energy intuitive gifts she is also trained and certified in Massage and Bodywork, Acupressure, Reiki and Hypnotherapy. She calls herself a Holistic Health Practitioner because that encompasses all her skills and focuses on human health as a whole. From personal experience she also understands some of the impacts of abuse, trauma and chronic illness and the challenges of anxiety, depression and stress.
She writes, “I have learned that Energy-Well-Being is not a goal to achieve or a race to win and does not need to compete with others for it. I realize it in my own way and in my own time. These practices have certainly helped with her own healing and helped Eala stay consistent and true whenever she faces stress, anxiety or any of life’s challenges. Most importantly they give Eala a foundation for living my life with integrity, purpose and harmony. She believes each of us has their own path to follow as we seek truth, wisdom and enlightenment. “
Originally from England, I now live in Spokane with my husband Pat and a friendly dog called Mitzi (who’s breath you’ll hear during the interview). When she is not working she enjoys making jewelry, dance and all forms of artistic expression, practicing Nia, Breema and Yoga, writing, walking and spending time with my husband and friends.
Author and meditator Gail Storey hiked the Pacific Crest Trail with her husband Porter Storey
(Note: below is a summary, not the entire transcript of the interview)
Gail Storey has meditated since the seventies, and has also authored 3 books. The Lord’s Motel, was praised by the New York Times Book Review as, “a tale of unwise judgments and wise humor.” Her second novel, God’s Country Club, was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection. She has won numerous awards, and her fiction, poetry, and essays have been widely published.
The book that is relevant to the Meditation Freedom podcast, and in which she talks about her experiences with meditation, mindfulness as well as perhaps the most awesome trails in the US, called the pacific crest trail, is a memoir called, I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail. The book won a number of awards, the National Outdoor Book Award, Colorado Book Award, Nautilus Silver Award, and Barbara Savage Award from Mountaineers Books. It was praised by Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, as “Witty, wise and full of heart.”
I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail is the hilariously harrowing story of Gail and Porter’s hike of the 2,663-mile trail from Mexico to Canada over the highest mountains of California, Oregon, and Washington. In their fifties, they carried Porter’s homemade ultralight gear to climb and descend twenty miles a day, trudge across the searing Mojave Desert, kick steps up icy slopes in the High Sierra, and ford rapids swollen with snowmelt. Through the permeable layer between self and nature, they walked deeply into the wilderness of love, and the question Who am I?
A former administrative director of the University of Houston Creative Writing Program, Gail now writes, hoopdances, and jumps out of cakes, not necessarily at the same time.
“I have a hunger to hike the whole trail” , Porter (Gail’s husband asked her), “It’s been growing in me for years, intensified by the work with people living their dying. But what keeps you going?” [Gail writes] For once I was at a loss for words. What wanted me out here? Not my body, it was falling apart. Not my thoughts, alternately confident and doubtful. Certainly not my emotions, unreliable in their swings from high to low. I wanted to be with Porter, yes, but even more, I felt inseparable now from the vast green and blue and white of the wilderness. I looked out on the lake, shimmering under the moon. I was as sturdy as the trees. I flowed over obstacles like water over rocks. I was as solid as the mountains, as clear as the sky. The wind blew through my heart. I was what knew the wind. What knew the world was here in me, pulsing in the trees, water, rocks, mountains, moon
Questions asked in the interview with Gail Storey
I’d like to start with how you got started on a meditation path, what prompted you to start thinking of doing a meditation practice? and why Buddhism?
You did some long retreats, how did those retreats and practice help you in our daily life?
Moving on to a different type of meditative retreat, let’s talk about your book, “I promise not to suffer, A fool for love hikes the Pacific Crest Trail”.
When you and your husband Porter where thinking about this epic trip along the Pacific Crest Trail, you were initially not totally thrilled with spending time in nature, as you say on the first page of your book, you “never much cared for nature, or rather, thought it OK, as long as it stays outside”. Was it the sense of your own mortality, as well as the circumstances (Porter quitting his job) or also those years of practice influence your decision to join your husband? (since you couldn’t join him on the Appalachian Trail).
Besides spending alone time, and relief from stresses of career, was it also nature that was calling you?
As you went further down the PCT, your relationship with nature changed…
You also mentioned that you wanted to fully experience each moment, instead of the endless “Cartesian chatter” as you call it.
You wanted (as you mention on page 94) the wilderness to make such claims on my body that my thoughts would settle like silt on the bottom of a lake.
Maybe you can describe a bit the experience you had on the trail, starting with suffering. As the book said, you made a distinction between pain and suffering. Explain what you mean with that to the audience.
Where you no longer had a clear sense of inside/outside. Where your persona, your face (as you say), everything dropped away, and your relationship or identification with nature transformed.
How has this affected your sense of authenticity?
Your husband Porter called it a vision quest, what was the main insight he got from this trip?
A Mindfulness Bell sound is a wonderful mindfulness aid. Repeated throughout your day, this sound can be a great way to stop and pay attention and be present for one’s life. There are many shapes and forms of bell sounds available online. I’ll put some options in the bottom of this post. Bells and gong sounds tend to be used, rather than say a loud clang sound, because of the bell’s prolonged sound, which is attention getting, and pleasant as well, reasons to stop and pay attention.
In the west we may be more likely used to church bells, which can reach far, due to them being up high in a clock tower. Here too, this sound can be used as an opportunity to stop briefly what you’re doing just to listen and experience the present moment. In Buddhist culture, a bell or gong is more typically used.
Practicing breathing with the sound of the mindfulness bell
That said, I think many of us in the west do tend to tune the sounds out, so some conscious effort and intention is needed in order to benefit from the invitation of the bells. When you hear the sound of the bell, try to focus on taking 3-10 breaths. Not forced, but just conscious breaths. Letting the belly expand on the in breath, and empty out on the out breath. To get the most out of this mini meditation, it is best to stop whatever you’re doing, and simply stand, or sit without getting distracted. Try doing this for a minute or so, or whenever the sound fades away. Just 10 relaxing breaths can help us feel energized again and feel refreshed.
Using a mindfulness bell in front of a computer
If listening to the mindfulness bell when working at a computer, it may be of help to close your eyes for the duration of the meditation. Eyes tire of watching a computer screen all day, so small breaks for the eyes can be very beneficial. It is also a great opportunity to do a body scan, or check to make sure you are sitting in the best posture. Especially for folks working on a computer, it is helpful to pay attention to the neck and head. They have a tendency to lean forward into the screen over time. So another good reason to use a mindfulness bell, is that you can check your posture and make sure your shoulders are not tightening up from repetitive actions. When typing on your keyboard, the arms should ideally be relaxed, so that the shoulders are not going up, which creates tensions.
Using a mindfulness bell when doing other things
If you’re using a mindfulness bell when going about business in the house, or elsewhere, then a good approach when hearing the bell sound would be to take a mini break, and stop. This doesn’t have to be conspicuous if in a public place, you can simply stop to look around and take 3 deep and conscious breaths. Here too, you have an opportunity to check for internal posture, are you upright and are your shoulders relaxed? What was the breathing like right as the bell sounded? If the breathing was shallow, that is all the more reason to take a time-out and let the breathing return to a relaxed natural state. It is totally normal that our breathing goes out of whack in the busy type of world and times we live on, so there is no need to get discouraged when the breathing is found to be shallow and tight. It is just a reminder that we do need to take care of our breathing regularly. And if a mindfulness bell help with this, than that is one more great aid in this mindfulness practice.
Below is a list of some options for mindfulness bells.
This video has 3 bells every 30 minutes for 8 hours long. So you can turn it on in the morning and run it until the end of the work day. You can then either repeat it for the evening, or run it again the next day if for example at the office. The video shows a great sign to aid in being present, “This is it!”.
Since these Apps will change over time, describing them below would quickly become inaccurate information. Some are very simple, a random bell (or through specified interval) or buzzer throughout the day. Some have added guided meditations and instructions, visualizations, and even added videos or podcasts. My recommendation would be to check each of these Apps out first, read their description and revision information, and if possible try the free version. Also, check the reviews and ratings when you find the App in iTunes or the Google Android Play store. The ratings will quickly tell you what features people like, what’s missing, and whether it is an App you wish to purchase. Note that the Apps below are in quotations, as that is the actual name of each Mindfulness or Meditation App.
There are a number of physical meditation timers as well that you can use as mindfulness timers (See here) as well. Hope this helps, and I’d love to here in the comments below if you use an App or mindfulness aid that helps you!
Walking meditation in a nutshell is consciously paying attention to each step you take in life, learning to be mindful to the matter at hand. So it is in a very literal way of walking, but also in a meaningful way that extends throughout other areas in our lives. As mentioned, learning to be mindful in each step helps not just with the physical act of walking, but ripples out into other areas in our lives. There are different ways to do walking meditation. There are both physical and mental things to pay attention to.
"Oh, beauty before me, beauty behind me, beauty to the right of me, beauty to the left of me, beauty above me, beauty below me, I’m on the pollen path" Navaho Wisdom
Why do Walking Meditation?
1. Too much sitting. Most of us in our daily lives and jobs do a LOT of sitting. Our lives have become very sedentary. I’m no exception. My day job involves primarily working on a computer, and sometimes for long stretches at a time. Then I either sit in a car, and drive home (I try to bicycle whenever I can). Then at home, I do some work around the house and in the garden, and then often get back to the computer, or sit and talk with my wife, and read, etc. On top of all that, if you practice sitting meditation as well, well, that is even more sitting! So walking meditation is a way to stay active, and alert, and become present.
2. Another reason why to learn walking meditation, is to use this practice as another aid in meditation. Which is to say, another way to appreciate our life, the present, and everything we love and have. While it is great to practice meditation or prayer, or listen to meditation music in the mornings, or when we’re home. This leaves a long day in the middle that can quickly fill up with distractions, and business that can fill up our minds. So adding walking meditation throughout the day can really help us maintain presence awareness, where sitting meditation would not be feasible. Walking meditation can do for our minds the same thing sitting meditation can do, it can help us stay alert and present throughout our day.
The risks of too much sitting..
With all the research that has been coming out about the dangers and risks of too much sitting, walking meditation is becoming an important tool in avoiding these risks.
In my particular case, I have a back that is more prone to back issues, due to a sciatic nerve that is easily agitated with too much sitting. As happens with a lot of computer workers, my neck and head are also prone to lean forward (especially in front of a computer screen). Hence, I not only want to get up frequently, but feel an urge (signal from my lower back and maybe a stiff neck) to get up and moving at least once or twice an hour. What I do when I walk around the office building is primarily walking meditation.
How to Practice Walking Meditation
Walking meditation can be done at any pace, however, it may make sense to try slowing down when doing walking meditation. That way you can learn how to do it, you learn to pay closer attention. And as a result are more likely to do well when having to walk fast. One of the reasons for slowing down during your walk, is that it is easy to miss what is going on in our bodies (and around us). Let’s break this down into a few components:
Breathing and posture during walking meditation
During walking meditation, pay close attention with your awareness to your breathing, both your in-breath, and your out-breath. Where are you breathing from? Your belly, or your chest? Just as in sitting meditation, make sure you aim for breathing from your belly. Is your belly relaxed, or tight? What about where you walk, if you are crossing a street, is your breathing more uneasy then walking down a busy street or a quiet street? What about a nature path? These may seem like insignificant differences, but they can be very different. I rarely see anyone crossing a street relaxed. Especially when crossing, many people hurry. I think we are conditioned to feel like we’re holding up traffic if we don’t rush. While this may be great for the car driver, and there are good times to walk defensively in case the driver is not paying attention or texting while driving. It is good to ask why? Why is my walking indicating that someone driving a car is more important? This is just an example, but it give you an idea of the kinds of observations that you can have when you slow down and pay attention to what is happening in your body just with the breath.
Noticing the world around you during walking meditation
Besides being aware of what is going on inside your body to reduce stress and incorrect posture, it is also a great time to become aware of everything around.
Hear the sounds such as your own footsteps, those of other folks, the car tires rolling around next to you, the distant train sounds. Try hearing without labeling or letting them turn into thoughts and mental diversions. In other words, being present for each new sound, instead of getting stuck on one sound, or tuning out after one sound you like/dislike.
Smell the scents, the asphalt, the fresh snow, or the blooming trees and flowers. These scents also bring us back into the present moment.
Feel the wind, or gentle breeze flowing around your ears, or through your hair, through the leaves at the trees above you. If there is no wind, what does the stillness feel like? What does it feel like to walk? Notice as much as possible all the various parts in your body, some may be painful, some may feel pleasant. Meditation is just noticing, acknowledging, and accepting these things, then letting it go. Not dwelling anywhere in particular. If it is something that requires attention, such as a hurt ankle, or something else that requires medical attention, then of course we need to take action.
Touch the earth with your feet of course. But notice the whole movement of your body, so that each step is unique, valued, and acknowledged. It’s the journey in other words, not so much the destination that really matters when doing walking meditation.
See the world around you as it really is. Again here it helps to slow down when you walk, you don’t need to walk in a funny way to fully experience the joy of walking meditation. Just occasionally try walking at a leisurely pace. Perhaps you see the leaves twirling, or you see the sun reflecting off the glass windows on the buildings across the street, or you see the smile on the mother’s face. Or you see the beautiful sidewalks, or the cracks on the wall in the corridor. Just remember, you are seeing in way higher resolution than the latest High Definition TV. Easy to miss the beauty all around us at any moment.
The faster you walk, the harder it is to process and appreciate. But also, the more your mind is in turmoil, the harder it is to process anything you see, hear, taste, smell, or touch. Jesus is attributed to have said in the Gospel of Thomas, “The kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth and men do not see it.” Walking meditation is one way to start “seeing it”.
(I would love to see what you are finding when you do walking meditation. Please post a comment with your experience below!)
If you have ever been on a beach and enjoyed the sounds of the ocean waves, you probably also recall having a relaxation response in your body. The ebb and flow of the ocean waves coming on the shore, and then receding back into the ocean has a way of resonating with our own breaths. I think this is because our bodies resonate with the natural ocean wave sound rhythm and express a sense of recognition that this is what our breathing is like when natural. This feeling then naturally gives a sense of well-being.
Especially during meditation, when you become aware of the slowing of your breathing, it is a very similar pattern to the ocean waves pattern. You can imagine a deep inhale like the water coming up to the shore, and then it briefly pauses just like with our own breathing, before receding back to the ocean. Then there is another pause and the cycle starts over again.
My guess is that most of our breathing is like the ocean when we’re asleep and peaceful, however during a busy and hectic day, it is probably much more irregular and choppy. If you have been sitting in a chair for long, your breathing may even feel constricted. This is where listening to ocean waves can be one more tool in your conscious breathing tool bag, to assist in becoming conscious of your own breathing patterns.
I’m including an ocean video with sound below, so you can try this out if you don’t live near an ocean. What you can try, is find a comfortable seat or lay flat on the ground, turn on this video, and let go of your thoughts. Then start noticing your breathing, and see if you can slow down and resonate with it. You will get most benefit if you simply let the ocean waves breath you, instead of trying to force or control your own breathing. In other words, by letting go of any ideas of outcome or control. Let me know how it goes!