Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Practicing mindfulness meditation is intense, valuable training. In mindfully sitting still—paying attention to our thoughts, our reflections, our feelings—we witness our inner world and identify behavioral patterns. We become more comfortable with stillness and silence, more capable of just being, and of accepting whatever is happening in the moment. We become more aware and more conscious as human beings. The immense benefit these experiences deliver can last forever. As transformative—even transcendent—as these personal experiences can be, though, they are only a beginning.
In Buddhist tradition, from which mindfulness meditation was largely adapted, compassion and altruism for others, a connection with and gratitude for the teacher, and practicing transcendent virtues—are all also aspects of the path. As meditation became Westernized and was popularized beginning in the early 70s, however, these central pillars largely were eliminated from the framework. Decades of declining religious worship—coupled with misconduct and egregious abuses of power—created further skepticism about a new and unfamiliar spiritual tradition. The academic community would not consider clinical research into anything that had a hint of religion. In order to satisfy these standards of scientific study, aspects that might have been construed as mysticism had to be sanitized. What was held to be “worship” of the teacher (or the Buddha), or “prayer” for bodhichitta (loving kindness for all beings), became casualties of this scientific rigor.
These exclusions, while seemingly necessary, impacted the potential overall benefits of what has become known as mindfulness meditation. Healing begins when quieting and focusing the mind increases the capacity for awareness. But awareness by itself is not enough, especially given the complexities of and tragedies we are witnessing in our contemporary world. Once a meditative practice has deepened to the point where we can be more present and less reactive, we can move to a deeper level of caring. Similar to the Buddhist objective, atruism—the conscious intention to care for others—can guide us to be more sensitive, considerate, and helpful as we respond to what is happening around us. What’s extraordinary is that clinical research (over 6000 academic articles on meditation are out there today) has discovered that just the very thought—a conscious intentional thought—of kindness toward others activates a feeling of well-being in our own minds! That’s not such a bad deal: Being compassionate toward others produces actual benefits for us personally.
If you’re someone who says there’s not enough time to meditate, I hear you. As a working mom for many years, meditation was one of the first things excised from those demanding days, or often weeks, when seemingly everything or everybody else came first. While I wish I’d taken a bit better care through those hectic times of my life, I came to realize that “sitting,” although helpful in experiencing spaciousness, it is not the whole picture. What was downplayed from the mindfulness movement as “prayer,” cultivating gratitude or the intention to be helpful toward others, is a pursuit deeply worthy of practice, whether we are on the cushion or not. It is yet to be seen for instance, but with the infinite potential of technology and social media, might we even be able to generate good will exponentially if we so choose? I invite us all to contemplate that the next time we’re about to post.
At a time in human history when we are facing potentially fatal threats to our survival, we can feel overwhelmed and at times utterly hopeless. Direct compassionate action may be the right path for people who have the energy or resources for it. But those of us who aren’t in a position to participate in social-justice work or in deescalating the threat of nuclear war can nonetheless start where we are—with ourselves and our friends, our colleagues and our families, and of course our clients. We can work toward having more impactful moments and developing more healing habits, in small ways and large. We can support each other by allowing pain and suffering to have the space to breathe, by asking about it, and by really being there to listen. We actually can become more centered and present by joining with others, and increase our capacity to feel inspired, to engage in more kindness, and perhaps to brainstorm collaboratively about some better way. These values, which cost nothing and benefit many, are values to pursue.
We at LACAMFT aspire to be that compassionate community of professionals—one that offers collegiality and connection, kindness for one another, excellent continued learning as required by the BBS state board, and camaraderie. We are continually growing and striving to meet the needs of this complex and incredibly diverse region of the world here in Los Angeles. If you haven’t been to one of our events in a while (or ever), we warmly welcome you. Come early, connect with colleagues, stay late. Don’t be afraid to ask questions beyond the professional. It’s okay. We invite it! It’s when we get to know and care for one another—the sorrows along with the joys, the failures and the successes, the personal along with the professional—that we often create the most unexpected friendships. Come join us, and please, when you do, be sure to introduce yourself. The connections you make in this community may very well become some of the most valuable in your professional life, and beyond. And of course if you have colleagues whom you feel would benefit, by all means invite them along. We’re open to all professionals who support the many modalities of healing and helping to create a better world.
Shelley Pearce, LMFT is currently serving as President of LA-CAMFT. She has a private counseling office in Santa Monica, and regularly consults by video conference with colleagues and clients. She serves on the board of the Global Bridge Foundation and helped create Humanistic Spirituality, an extensive, free online resource for counselors. She synthesizes a breadth of career diversity, education, experience, and a sincere desire to help in her service and practice with individuals and couples.