Mindfulness – surprisingly effective for behavioural change

Attending a retreat run by Fritx Koster, I was struck by the power of the meditation programme and material he had developed.

Mindfully based compassionate living is an advanced course for those who have an established meditation practise and have done the 8-week MBSR course. The material sounds gentle and you may therefore expect it to be soft or indulgent. In fact, it has some real rigour and is profoundly challenging. It was important to remain open and honest with ourselves during this deep and sometimes difficult period of reflection.

Through a structured process, we looked at the content of related meditations designed to help us face issues such as our self-limiting beliefs and flawed thinking as well as unhelpful behaviours.

Evolution and our being

We looked at evolutionary biology and our 3 emotional regulation systems. Our biology is not always useful in today’s world, where threats are more likely to be about feeling excluded or comparing ourselves unfavourably to others, rather than literal threats of survival.

The threat system is well recognised in our fight, flight or freeze reactions. The drive system is what encourages us to seek resources, satisfaction, strive and consume and the soothing system seeks connection and safeness.

Biologically these developed to ensure we survived and are still active today. However, with our human ability to plan, conceptualise and imagine, we are often high-jacked into imagining something is a threat even though it hasn’t happened, and is unlikely to do so. Often that something is a social or emotional event.

Self observation

The meditation training supports us noticing when this is happening. This allows us to make more mindful decisions and deal with stress by having choices about deciding what course of action to take, rather than reacting without pause or thought. This is a deeply personal reflective process.

After each meditation we used a reflective insight enquiry process in pairs. The instruction was to notice what happened for us during the meditation, how it felt, what we noticed in our body physically and to explain that to our partners.

The listener had a listening role only, and is prohibited from coming in with their story, or comments. People spoke about the profound value in being listened to without judgment and how that unconditional acceptance provided a secure place from where they could make personal changes, particularly when the material was challenging.

Meditation and action learning

The course, whilst at a deeper and more personal level than action learning, did have parallels with the reflective process that is a fundamental part of our programmes and the whole ethos of action learning.

During our action learning sets we are mindful to listen, to be non-judgmental, and to provide a secure place in which we can all explore our deeper thoughts and feelings.

Whilst we can use these methods as a route to more compassionate living, to reduce stress and be kinder to ourselves, they are also profound and powerful experiences that can be the catalyst we need to change our behaviours and interactions. Taking the time to understand how this works, and how we operate on a biological level, has for me been extremely insightful.

Why not join our next course on using Mindfulness to Excel in Facilitation? We run courses throughout the year, according to demand, so please let us know if you are interested. More details are here.

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