CHAZ SOUTHARD

When did you first start practicing mindfulness and why were you motivated to do so?

I first began practicing mindfulness based meditation in the academic environment at Lesley University. A tenured professor in the school of counseling psychology suggested that I enroll in a mindfulness-based course to add depth to my studies.

I had previously read articles that suggested mindfulness-based stress reduction as an effective remedy for chronic pain symptoms. Several years ago, I had a severe spinal cord injury and this injury has led to chronic pain. I was intrigued that mindfulness could be used as a self-healing modality and that I would be able to integrate this knowledge into my graduate education. It was an added bonus that I would be able to learn and use myself as a laboratory during this class and see if mindfulness-based stress reduction could help calm my body down, increase my immune system response and alleviate chronic pain symptoms.

For many years, I had informally and inconsistently practiced various types of meditation. The combination of formal academic inquiry, a steady schedule and open group acted like a silent authority that strengthened my practice. Liberation of the self is the goal of psychology and mindfulness practice because they open the gates towards relationships and interconnection.  I see them as complementary tools that provide a holistic approach towards mental health.

Did you take a class? If so, what sort of a class did you take?

The graduate course that I attended was titled “Mindfulness in the Profession.”  Dr. Nancy Waring provided a strong catalog of pertinent reflective readings, scientific studies, mindfulness-based conferences, retreat experience and her own wisdom as a practitioner for over 30 years. The purpose of the class was to first become mindful practitioner and then to extend personal practice into one’s professional life.

How has mindfulness made a difference in your life?

Mindfulness has made a tremendous difference in my ability to respond to events and become alive in the present reality. I also use mindfulness-based meditation as a daily preparation and restorative technique. The practice has been an invaluable therapeutic tool for academic pursuits as well as a neuro-rehabilitative technique.

Here are some ways that mindfulness has helped:

  • I’ve become friendlier with my own thoughts. For example, I no longer frequently label actions, emotions, or thoughts as simply good or bad. During instruction, our class was advised to just surrender to the flow of thought and avoid categorizing thoughts as positive or negative. I’ve tried to extend this into everyday situations and decisions.
  • I’ve become more aware of my own my bodily sensations and mental processes.  
  • I’ve been able to work on delaying emotional responses. During mindfulness-based meditation we were advised to watch the thought patterns of the mind like a river. Throughout the day, I am now more aware of the space between thought and action and I’ve noticed that I am more flexible with feelings of fear, anxiety, anger and joy.
  • My consciousness has expanded so that I can now have a better perspective on how the external world effects my internal thoughts. For example, if I am within a heavily traffic freeway with screeching brakes, exhaust fumes, swift movements- I notice how my internal world will begin to mirror the outside.   I can now figuratively step away and more accurately access the situation.
  • I am more alive in the present moment.  I still struggle with previous traumas and future expectations–but I am more aware that I float between yesterdays and tomorrows.

What do you do for your livelihood (e.g., homemaker, teacher, firefighter) and does your practice of mindfulness affect that?

As a student, mindfulness has helped ease my eagerness to complete one assignment in order to begin the next. I try to become fully engaged with the present subject matter. I hope that as a future psychotherapist, that I will be able to utilize mindfulness techniques to better serve my clients.

Is there anything else you would want people to know about mindfulness and you?

I’ve used myself as a laboratory and have tried to document how mindfulness practice has reduced periods and the intensity of chronic pain.  I feel that mindfulness-based stress reduction is an essential tool for the management and alleviation of chronic pain symptoms. On many occasions I’ve been able to find peace, clarity of mind and enhance my attention resources directly with this practice.

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