We are happy to announce the second Weathering Storms all-day workshop in London on Saturday June 15th 2019 (note date change).
Join Anthony Fidler and Tamara Russell as they deep dive into how professionals and those caring for people experiencing non-ordinary states can work in ways that blend the best of Western scientific understanding with Eastern practices. Find out how embodied mindfulness, mindful movement, compassion and touch practices are your brain’s preferred way to manage even the most extraordinary of mental phenomena.
Our work thus far:
Weathering Storms is a continuing collaboration between the Mindfulness Centre of Excellence and Anthony Fidler, who is committed to sharing his experiences and learning from his journey to mindful acceptance and management of non ordinary states.
Our intention is to explore the steps that can lead to paradigm shift in the field of mental health and specifically provide more humane treatment alternatives to those experiencing non-ordinary states (including psychosis, bipolar, depersonalization and dissociation as well as drug-induced changes in the perception of reality).
This collaboration stems from a shared personal experience of the benefits of using embodied mindfulness and compassion and touch for working with non-ordinary states and a strong desire to effect change in systems and processes that meant well but have served their time.
This letter was published in the British Psychological Society Review (May 2018) and details in a open and extremely mindful way, Anthony’s experiences and intentions with this work. Aspects of this letter were presented in a workshop at the British Psychological Society in 2018.
You can listen to Tamara and Anthony in dialogue at the start of the project in this podcast.
You can also read Anthony’s commentary on our first event here.
We take a Mindful 360 approach which includes
- Deep and vulnerable collaborative dialogue that honours, blends and integrates worlds, models, and frameworks;
- Workshops that facilitate deep exploration and conversation;
- Sharing our observations and learning as we go;
- Connecting those who wish to travel along this new path;
- Allowing what emerges from this process to arise without expectation.
The Mindful 360 approach means taking a broader and kinder look at what is going on. It means widening the aperture of the attentional lens and keeping it open and engaged, even when challenging material arises. It requires an on-going commitment to compassion and care for all parties in the process, as well as a strong hold on the bigger “why?” or meta-intentions of the work.
In this second workshop of the series, we are exploring the steps necessary to help those working with psychosis develop personal and professional practices that can both enhance the recovery process as well as stay well themselves in their work.
Part 1: Preparing to See Clearly
If we are going to transform in radical ways, it helps to have some Tools. As you read on, you are invited to deliberately engage the Three Cs mindset – curiosity, courage and compassion. You can find a meditation here.
Placing a hand on your heart may also be helpful.
Hold in mind that this is a story of individuals, tribes, and systems, as well as simultaneously one of human beings, all inter-connected within a much, much larger system.
Additionally, while these comments are in reference to working with psychosis, many apply more broadly to any system were expertise and power hierarchies are at play.
Part 2: Some (possibly) painful truths …..
From deep listening conversations happening with those who have used mental health services for the treatment of psychosis the list below captures some of the key observations.
- The dual role of the system to provide therapy as well as offer a “public protection/criminal justice” role has led to much confusion.
- The very real need for medication-based psychiatry as an appropriate response in some cases may have overgrown its territory (for a variety of reasons)
- For many, the experience of using mental health services has at best resulted in sub-optimum care and in the worst cases, abuse.
- The “expert” model of medication-based care is woefully insufficient to promote or allow self-development and growth from a mental health crisis.
- For both patients and staff, there has been a chronic experience of not being heard, acknowledged or cared for.
- The unacknowledged impact of burnout and vicarious trauma in those delivering services in a consistently underfunded part of the health service.
- The frustrations and impotence of staff and professional carers wanting to offer more humane approaches and alternatives.
- The experience “lip service” that is sometimes paid to creative, alternative and peer led ways of working.
And breathe ….. and pause, and connect to your body as you sit in the chair. Take a moment to see how this reality lands in your body and heart. Stay with…..lean in…..feel deeply. Try the “Going Big” meditation….
Part 3: Stay (mindfully) with the feeling….
Sharing these insights can provoke a variety of responses. For those using the services it is often (but not always) “wow, someone is actually talking about my experience”. For those working in the services the reactions can be mixed but usually includes a relatively predictable cognitive dissonance response. First the emotional sting, followed by thoughts such as “that’s not my experience so I am sure its not that bad” or “that’s a bit harsh” or “this is just one person’s perspective and may not be representative”. Sometimes, there is resonance……”I was partially aware of this, but its too painful to look at this closely”. Emotions, rationalisation, and then often, no time to think deeply about what is really happening or what might really change. Under pressure, under stress, there is no time to think let alone feel.
Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort (emotions or thoughts) that arises when new evidence contradicts beliefs, ideals and values. For example, when a healthcare provider doing their very best to help others is told that what they are offering is unhelpful or harming. Note that in some cases of “wounded healers” this is also in the context of really giving of oneself in the service of others, sometimes in a way that is “self harming”. Or when a system that has compassionate care as a value is faced with a growing public and media perception of being abusive.
Staying with the feelings here is so important. There is a tendency to rush to solutions but this would be a mistake. This is not the way the new paradigm works. The solution is to be found in our shared experience of suffering. Not what the suffering is about, but the fact that we all suffering. It is vital that healthcare professionals at this point stay with the feeling and resist the urge to go into “expert” or “fixing” modes.
“Mature authenticity is the most powerful tool for helping others. You are on your journey, just like they are. Professionalism is finding the balance, while not pretending to be whole, with the client broken.” Anthony Fidler, 2019
A variety of mindfulness tools that support transformation are helpful here including Mindfulness of the Soles of the Feet, Going Big and Hands on Heart. You can find these and some of the other Tools to Transform and Heartfulness meditations on Tamara’s Soundcloud.
Part 4: Knowledge is power…get to know your cognitive dissonance response ….
Our mind/brain responds in some typical ways during cognitive dissonance. Above, you were invited to feel the feeling in that moment. Your capacity to stay with these strong (usually negative) emotions is directly related to your mindfulness and compassion skills (which can be trained). How can you be ok, when things are not? This is the true test of mindfulness skills.
It is vital to not go to “empathy” here. Compassion is feeling into the feeling and recognizing its about all of us, not taking on the pain of the “other”. See the great work of Professor Tania Singer on why compassion rather than empathy training is important for healthcare workers.
What follows next is usually a mad scramble of cognitive activity and restructuring to make the “bad feeling” go away. This might include minimizing, denial, blaming, or a variety of defensive responses.
Mindful responding means noticing this without judgment. Perhaps saying “oh yes, that is what the mind will do here, I am prepared for this”. Then staying with the feelings a bit longer to see what else emerges. The next layer can reveal guilt, shame, sadness and regret. The mind starts to question “what was my role in this? Could I have done anything differently?” or begins to ask questions about complicity within a system that started out with very great intentions, but has perhaps now gone so far off course it now requires a more dramatic paradigm shift.
Mindful responding means staying with this is a bit longer. If we allow the experience of guilt and shame and don’t get caught up in it……..what do we find?
What we tend to find is our common human suffering. One party is suffering the pain of a mental health crisis and the experience of being harmed when help was needed. The other is suffering the pain of having harmed, when they thought they were helping, perhaps within the context of connecting to their own original wounds that led them to this work in the first place (research is me-search as they say). This shared experience is where we can meet for maximum healing of what is damaged in all of us – TOGETHER.
Holding pain and distress (red) in a container of compassion (green). Thanks to a participant from the Heartfulness course for this amazing creation and Professor Paul Gilbert for his “three zones model”.
“Caring for the Carer and personal self-development is the foundation from which one can then consider supporting others. Neglecting this invalidates the care process.” Anthony Fidler, 2019
The intention of the Weathering Storm project is to determine how best to take the next steps to move from this lose-lose situation to a win-win situation via a pathway of brain-wise care and compassion for all involved in this work. This second workshop focuses on what those working in healthcare might need.
Our workshop on June 15th will cover:
- Scientific models of how the brain changes with mindfulness (Hasenkamp’s neurocognitive model) and how the blend of practices Tamara and Anthony work with tap into this system. See this short video of Tamara explaining the basics of this model.
- Scientific models of how this same brain network is activated in various ways to cope with guilt, shame, trauma and fear (Menon’s work on the triple network model and psychopathology)
- Practices and experiences that tap into these networks (drawing on embodied mindfulness, compassion and touch practices).
- A safe space to think though how best to work through cognitive dissonance as kindly and efficiently as possible focused on the challenges specific to healthcare workers.
- Practices to stay grounded while we navigate this tilt and move to a new way of working with psychosis.
- How to working directly with our own wounds positively impacts on any subsequent work with our patients (and in fact is essential).