A Reminder: Mindful Monday and Thankful Thursday Sessions Open to All

The sessions are open to all UNC affiliated staff, students, researchers, clinical trainees and faculty. Please drop in to experience some basic, guided mindfulness practices that incorporate insight-oriented, gratitude, and loving-kindness meditations, among other practices.

Mindful Monday occurs from 12:15 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. each Monday in the chapel located adjacent to the Cancer Hospital lobby very near to the Patient and Family Resource Center and down the hallway past the large Sanofi-Aventis conference room. Thankful Thursday occurs from 12:05 p.m. to 12:25 p.m. each Thursday in the John M. Reeves All-Faith Chapel on the 1st floor of the memorial hospital. Dr. Jonny Gerkin and/or Kristina Morris lead the sessions.

If you notice your mind struggling with not having enough time to attend or are running late on any particular day you are planning to attend, accept those inner experiences and bring them along with you. After all, who are we to trust, our minds or our direct experience? Anyone interested in being added to the weekly reminder/announcement regarding the sessions can email Jonny at gerkin@med.unc.edu to be added to the listserv.

A few words on mindfulness by Jonny Gerkin, MD, UNC Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry

Mindfulness is no panacea. The fruit of its practice, however, can help us to recognize there is no such thing, and more importantly, that no such thing is necessary for vital living. Rick Hanson, psychologist-researcher and author, has noted that mindfulness is necessary but not sufficient when it comes to achieving sustainable happiness. Many believe that an effective ability to attend is necessary for meaningful living. Meant by this is the ability to: curiously attend to a broad perspective, one which is beyond our latest thoughts and emotions; effectively orient our attention to the current context; and flexibly and continually shift our focused attention within our specific context and broader perspective. A practice that supports these ends sets the stage for us to respond based upon values that are salient in both the short- and long-views rather than react out of fear or to escape other uncomfortable, yet natural emotions that frequently crowd our experience and severely limit our ability to live vitally in this moment.

At both psychological and neurobiological levels, a regular mindfulness practice, which is not necessarily a meditative practice, can help us to gain perspective and develop the neural circuitry to be more present, self-aware, compassionate with our self and others, balanced and wise. There is a robust and ever-growing literature, both popular and scientific, supporting these (and many more) claims. If you are interested in fascinating interviews with researchers, philosophers, authors, artists, religious leaders, spiritual teachers and other types of practitioners who are passionate about capturing and living the wisdom within us, check out the ON BEING podcast by downloading the app on your smart phone or Googling it on your computer. I especially recommend the James Doty (Stanford Neurosurgeon who heads their CCARE institute), Ellen Langer (Harvard Social Psychologist who proscribes 'direct mindfulness'), and Rabbi Lawrence Kushner (Kabbalist scholar) podcasts as worth your time. For those more interested in 'hard' science, consider this example from mindfulness neuroscience research by Lanius et al.: Restoring large scale brain networks in PTSD and related disorders: a proposal for neuroscientifically-informed treatment interventions. This type of research suggests real biomarkers and representative endo-phenotypes to target with further research and evidence-based treatments, all of which will be less likely to fall victim to the pitfalls typical of our current approaches to symptom-based syndromes. This 2016 review, In pursuit of resilience: stress, epigenetics, and brain plasticity, speaks to some of these claims.

In the meantime, if you are feeling sloth-like, do a body focused meditation such as a body scan, or attend to your body and senses while engaging in vigorous exercise or a breathing exercise such as bhastrika. If you are caught up in your restless, anxious mind and body sensations, sit for an open meditation for 10 – 20 minutes, simply observing and letting go of all that shows up inside, or for just a few minutes wherever you are notice, name and envision each thought emblazoned on leaf floating down the stream. If you are feeling a mixture of both, then take a well-deserved vacation and actually show up for every moment of it… then continue that practice ever after, I mean the showing up part as perpetual vacation might get rather tedious.

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