Mindfulness – An Approach to

by Barbara de Michele

“Mindfulness” should have been the 2014 Word of the Year, because I’m seeing it everywhere.  There’s even a new magazine called Mindful, available on newsstands for $5.95.

Seemingly daily, researchers confirm that mindfulness – which is closely aligned but not quite the same thing as meditation – reduces anxiety, aids in physical healing, sets criminals toward rehabilitation, and helps recovery from addiction.

It also makes you faster than a flying bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings!  Well, not quite.  But, as someone who has practiced meditation and mindfulness for about twenty years, I can say that it’s changed my mind and life in some pretty amazing ways.

I came to meditation following a profound personal loss.  Searching for ways to cope with deep grief, I spotted a small notice in my church’s bulletin offering a four-week introduction to meditation.  I showed up ready to walk out at the slightest hint of weirdness.

The instructor, as it turned out, reminded me of my grandmother – softly plump and welcoming to the 12 people who attended.  She briefly described the history of meditation, showed us how to place our hands and feet, illustrated breathing and how to use a mantra if desired.  And then – boom – she signaled five minutes of meditation and rang a small bell. The room fell into complete silence.

It was excruciating.  Five minutes loomed in front of me like a prison sentence.  My mind darted around like a  . . . well, like a monkey.  What was I supposed to be thinking?  What was I supposed to be feeling?  Breathe in, breathe out, and off my mind raced again.  A thought did occur to me — had I EVER had to sit quietly with myself, doing nothing mentally or physically, in my entire life? As instructed, I let go of the thought as though it were a cloud sailing on the horizon.  Breathe in, breathe out.

The instructor rang the bell and talked briefly about “monkey mind” (oh . . . that’s what that was!) and answered questions.  One man in his twenties expressed great disappointment because “nothing happened.”  After that evening he never returned.  I understood his frustration but was ready to give it another try.  After four weeks I was hooked.

I relished sitting in silence, removed from the busy-ness of the world, safely able to deal with the torrent of thoughts running through my head.  I began sitting every day at home, and tried many different forms of meditation and mindfulness.  By now, I can say that just about everything I needed to know about meditation, I learned in that first class.

Meditation is an incredibly simple, direct method of calming the mind and body, exploring your own mental constructs, and yes . . . eventually . . . arriving at insights that change the way you see yourself, see the world and interact with life.

A few tips:

  • Meditation does not require adherence to a particular set of religious beliefs, or any belief at all. Find an approach that fits with your religious or non-religious orientation.
  • In my exploration of different types of meditation, I came across “mindfulness” which I would define as using meditation techniques – such as deep breathing, focus and non-judgment – while going about your daily business. For example, try eating your breakfast as mindfully as possible, slowing down to experience the taste and texture of the food, thinking about how the food got onto your table, experiencing your own body’s reactions to the food, and so forth. Wake up, focus and objectively observe exactly what is in front of you at any given time and you’ve entered the realm of mindfulness.
  • If joining a class or group is not your thing, there are nearly infinite numbers of books and magazines that explain everything you ever need to know about the subject. “Meditation for Dummies” is a good one.  For a deeper look, try “Sitting Quietly, Doing Nothing,” a chapter in “The Way of Zen” by Alan Watts.
  • Lots of people who practice meditation feel that “nothing happens” for quite some time. Relax. Keep at it.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.  One day you’ll go:  “Aha!”

Eating Disorder Myths and Reality

Eating Disorder Myths and Reality

When I think back to high school and my first years of college, I regret the time I lost to a common obsession: Not an hour went by without thoughts of food—what I ate, what I would eat, what I wouldn’t eat—and my body—how big it was, how much it weighed, how it looked, how I wanted it to look. I didn’t talk with anyone about these thoughts because I thought they were inevitable. I didn’t think I had a serious problem because every girl seemed to share my obsession. That’s how it was, I thought, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Sure I binged sometimes, but that was just a lack of self-control. Sure I went on extreme diets, but that was just to make up for the binges.

Because my behavior didn’t fit my understanding of an eating disorder, I didn’t ask for help until my third year of college when my eating had become so erratic my body started to shut down. To my surprise, I discovered through treatment that I didn’t have to live with self-loathing thoughts and self-punishing behavior. I found respect for my body and freedom from obsession. I might have found freedom years earlier if I hadn’t waited for the situation to become life-threatening before asking for help—if I’d understood how food and body obsession were already robbing me of a full life.

What you think you know about eating disorders might not be true. At best, misconceptions may be hurtful to individuals struggling with disordered eating. At worst, they may keep you or someone you know from getting needed help. Consider these six common eating disorder myths, and how a better understanding can bring hope and healing.

Myth #1: Eating disorders are primarily about food.

Just eat. This may be your intuitive response to someone who refuses food—or to someone who’s bingeing, just stop eating. These are among the least helpful comments you can make to someone with an eating disorder. Eating disorders have complex causes and cannot be willed away. If you are struggling with disordered eating, don’t deceive yourself into thinking you just need more willpower. Don’t beat yourself up when willpower fails. Find someone who can help.

Check out the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) website for more information about the causes and treatment of eating disorders.

Myth #2: Eating disorders are a “white girl’s disease.”

Eating disorders affect individuals of all ethnic backgrounds and ages, and males have eating disorders too. The national Eating Disorders Coalition reports an increase in the prevalence of eating disorders among all ethnic and cultural groups. Disordered eating can begin in elementary school and is becoming more common among older women. And according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), males account for 10 to 15 percent of those diagnosed with eating disorders. Don’t dismiss your own or someone else’s struggle because it doesn’t match the picture you expect to see. Eating disorders are real and their consequences are serious no matter who experiences them.

For further reading, see NEDA’s collection of articles about eating disorders among diverse populations.

Myth #3: Body size is the best indicator of an eating disorder.

People of all shapes and sizes have eating disorders. While a low body weight is among the diagnostic criteria for anorexia, individuals with binge eating disorder are often obese, and those with bulimia can be underweight, overweight, or in between. What’s more, it’s difficult to judge weight by appearance. An emaciated look is cause for concern, but distress over food is a more consistent indicator that help is needed.

Read more about the signs and symptoms of eating disorders at the Eating Disorder Hope website.

Myth #4: People with eating disorders don’t want help.

While resistance to treatment is not uncommon, studies have found that as many as 80 percent of referred patients agree to receive help and remain in treatment through its completion. Other studies have found that individuals who received life-saving eating disorder treatment without their initial consent later expressed goodwill toward care providers. Don’t assume someone with an eating disorder will refuse your help. If they do initially refuse, don’t assume that nothing can be done.

Helpguide.org offers tips on helping someone with an eating disorder.

Myth #5: Eating disorders aren’t dangerous.

Don’t write off troublesome eating behavior as “no big deal.” Despite what you might read on pro-ana or pro-mia websites, there is no healthy way to embrace an eating disorder. Eating disorders are always damaging to your physical and mental health, and they can become fatal. For example, ANAD reports that young women with anorexia are 12 times more likely to die before age 24 than young women without anorexia. Take disordered eating seriously and ask for help. The earlier a person seeks treatment, the higher the likelihood of success.

Myth #6: You can never recover from an eating disorder.

According to statistics reported on the website Mirror-Mirror.org, 60 percent of those who receive eating disorder treatment experience full recovery, and another 20 percent experience partial recovery. Recovery can be a slow process, lasting several years and involving relapses and restarts. If you or someone you love is recovering from an eating disorder, have patience and hope. Find a provider and type of treatment that works for you. Recovery is possible and, with appropriate treatment, likely.

Read more about recovering from an eating disorder.


Eating Disorders Coalition: http://eatingdisorderscoalition.org/

Eating Disorder Hope: http://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/

Helpguide.org: http://helpguide.org/

Mirror-Mirror.org: http://www.mirror-mirror.org/

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders: http://www.anad.org/

National Eating Disorders Association: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

Becoming Part of the Solution

As with communities all over the country, Issaquah and Sammamish are in the midst of a healthcare crisis. In the last month or so we have witnessed several fatal overdoses involving young adults, and even as a healthcare provider I cannot begin to estimate how many overdoses have gone without response.

What we have begun to acknowledge in our community however is that substance use, abuse and dependence are an ever present reality that require our compassionate attention.   Drug use trends tend to change slowly as is the nature of populations. That being said, at times we can have bursts of change, usually resulting from some atypical event. Take for example what is commonly referred to as our current “opiate epidemic”— in hindsight a clear product of the massive over-prescription of powerful opiate medication. Another example is our state’s rapid comfort with medicinal and recreational use of marijuana impacting youth access and use.

There are fortunately some community investments we can make to support our young folks with regard to risk and protective factors.

Some of the basics are:

  • Be informed- Reality and perception are often distant. For example according to Issaquah High School’s 2012 Healthy Youth Survey, 40% of our seniors report having used marijuana. What percentage of parents might consider it to be their child? http://www.issaquah.wednet.edu/family/health/HYS.aspx
  • Share a consistent message- Often students hear mixed messages. Perhaps one substance is acceptable, and another is not, etc. Law enforcement, parents, schools and the community can work to share a common theme. Bottom line, healthy youth do not use any substances, and alcohol and other drug use always degrades their physiological wellness, health and development.
  • Share your expectations- This is a significant predictor of young people declining to use drugs. They really do hear us!
  • Positively populate- Be a vocal, invested community member. Venture out and provide a community norm that regards health and safety and discourages drug use and other illegal activity.

Our young people look to us for boundaries and a safe place to learn and grow. They thrive in the security and consistency we create. Let us give them the best that we have. The most advantageous of opportunities.

Please join us for substance use specific content and support in our community.