What is Mindfulness?

Sterling Silver Buddha
Sterling Silver Buddha | Collection of Jerome Freedman

We begin with the question: What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is the act of deliberately paying full attention to what is going on in the present moment without judgment. I’m sure you have experienced moments of mindfulness sometime in your life. These moments of mindfulness can come when you see a beautiful sunset or gaze down on your infant child in awe or in many other common circumstances. You know where you are and what you are doing. The only difference between mindfulness and what you do in everyday life is the quality of awareness. If you are eating something from a fast food restaurant on the run, this is not mindfulness. If you are carrying on a conversation with someone and your attention is on what you will be doing next, this is not mindfulness. But if you are listening to someone with your full attention as if there were nothing else to do in that moment, this is mindfulness.

I am reminded of the Japanese poem:

Sitting quietly,
Doing nothing,
Spring comes,
And the grass grows all by itself!

As the poem states, mindfulness in sitting quietly implies “doing nothing!” In order to achieve this, all you do is sit there!

When we are mindful, we know what we are experiencing in or body, feelings, mind and the contents of the mind. When we pay attention to what is going on in our body, we recognize the life force pulsating throughout our whole being. We recognize the miracle of being alive, which we usually take for granted.  Even so, the miracle is still here, nonetheless. At any moment, we can become aware of our breathing, whether at our nostrils, in our chest, or in our belly. When we do so, we return to the present moment. When we feel our heart beating in our chest or notice our pulse in our feet, legs, torso, arms, or head, we return to the present moment. When we are out in nature and notice the green leaves, flowers, birds, insects, rocks, yes, and even dog poo, we can return to the present moment.

Our feelings are also gateways to being present. Most of the time, we spend a lot of energy avoiding our feelings by watching TV, eating when we are not hungry, going shopping, or simply denying them. However, if we can experience our feelings in our feelings,they too, can be a doorway to being mindful in the present moment. You may ask, “What does it mean to experience our feelings in our feelings?” It means to simply experience our feelings directly, without adding our thoughts, opinions, judgments, criticisms, notions, or anything else to them. We have to let go and allow our inner wisdom to feel what we are feeling. From this, compassion for ourselves develops and we find more freedom of expression. Good explanation!

Our thoughts consist of images, impulses, feelings, memories, opinions and judgments, plans, worries, fixations, mental constructions, and self-talk– the constant chatter that goes on inside our minds. We also have moments of creativity and insight when we are concentrated on something we love or experience awe at a truly wonderful sight in nature. Our thoughts can get the best of us as they circuit around through our brain. However, with mindfulness, we can bring our mind back to our breath or our body and return to the present moment.

Eating Soup with a Fork

Today was probably the worst day that I’ve had since I received my diagnosis. I was full of emotion and frequently broke down crying. The morning was especially trying, as I was desperately trying to get in to see Leslie Davenport, having told my boss that I wouldn’t make it in today. The best she could offer was 6:00 tomorrow evening, so I jumped on it.

The doubt factor was the strongest. I doubted myself. I doubted my recovery. I was consumed by the idea that if things didn’t change in my life, I would have more trouble as a person who had had cancer than a person that has cancer and knows it. I was extremely afraid to be hurt and abandoned. Now that I am well, are my friends still going to care about me? Will I be able to continue to create my dream? Will my heart remain open? Or, is it already out to lunch? What about the divine love I was feeling last week? What about the love my daughter expressed for me last Friday? How can all of this be simultaneously true in my experience.

Well, here I am, eating soup with a fork! You’ll have to read It’s Easier Than You Think by Sylvia Boorstein to get the full impact of what I’m doing! The book is about the Buddhist way to happiness, and I spent the afternoon reading the whole thing, in between fits of tears and meditation. One of the main ideas that struck me from the book was that, “Traditional Buddhist texts teach that the ability to sustain attention in the truth of the moment is the antidote for doubt.” Many of her stories also moved me to tears. One of the bells of mindfulness that happened during my meditation was as call from a member of Anna Halprin’s group who offered to give me a massage tomorrow after talk at Voices of Healing.

I guess I’m doing a little better now that I’m eating my soup with a fork and writing in Yellow Stream!


It's Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness

I Love the Sounds of Spring

April 5, 1997 – I Love the Sounds of Spring

I woke up this morning and began my morning meditation, during which this poem came to me:

5:30 AM. The Sun rises across the Bay.
The birds sing in the trees.
I lie in my bed, breathing in, breathing out.
I love the sounds of spring!

I’m not much of a poet, but this one seems OK!

Today promises to be one with many visitors! D. and S. G. spent last night with us and planned to be with us most of the day. K. S. came with her two kids. We had a great lunch at Kitti’s place, which seems to be our home away from home these days. Kitti was the chief chef at Comforts in San Anselmo. It seems that Comforts sold out about six months after Kitti opened his own place.

Later in the day, V. R. came with a friend of hers. V. is in my enneagram group and we have a deep affection for each other. She was so loving and compassionate that I hated to see her leave.

We went to A. and S. M.’s  for dinner, but I really started to get exhausted after walking a lot of steps up into their house on Lombard street.


Healing Support

April 3, 1997 – Healing Support

Today I went to Cancerport again. The group was once again quite small, so just about everyone got a chance to speak. People asked how I was doing, and I had a long opportunity to explain what was going on with me. Basically, I told them that I had not recovered as quickly from the second chemotherapy and radiation as the first, but mentally and emotionally I was doing quite well. I still have difficult periods with my elimination and a lot of tiredness. I explained how my meditation and imagery work kept my mind focused in my body and away from morbid thoughts. I explained how radical cystectomy was the standard of treatment and that I had decided to take charge of my own case by doing the Shipley method and just how that worked. I told them how I used the web to find out information about my disease and as a means of tracking my healing progress.

Someone then asked me about how I felt about having cancer. I proceed to explain that my father had bladder cancer and died at the age of eighty-six from it, but that he had had a tumor in his bladder for perhaps twenty years. I told them about my son’s metastatic Wilm’s tumor, and that it was another form of urinary track cancer. Then I explained my sister’s death due to Leukemia twenty-eight years ago and my mother’s osteosarcoma. Finally, I mentioned that all my aunts and uncles died from cancer. Thus I felt that I had a genetic disposition towards getting cancer and that the stress brought about by the loss of my job two and one-half years ago probably brought it on.

The discussion turned more towards the alternative treatments that I am using and I spoke about specifically about Michael Broffman and Marty Rossman as partners in my care with the Marin Cancer Institute. I tried to explain that one did not have to believe in meditation or imagery for them to work, even though several people insisted that some level of belief was necessary. So I explained that just a people go to work out at the gym to keep their physical bodies in good shape, they could learn to quiet their mind with a little practice. Wonderfully enough, other people with imagery and/or meditation experience backed up my mini-lesson on meditation, and I felt safe enough to share the insight about “healthy cells grow all by themselves.”

From there, I went to Gail Teehan for another Functional Integration session. It was tremendously healing, once again, and Gail and I shared a lot with each other about our lives and our personal growth. I love working with her because she’s so understanding and has such great hands. I bet she gives a hell of a massage!

Tonight I was supposed to meet my wife at M. C.’s house for dinner and a movie, but I really don’t feel up to going out again. I think yesterday was too much for me and I still exhausted from the long drive to Menlo Park.

Well, “enough for today,” as Bhagwan used to say!


Healing the Body – Healing the Mind

March 3, 1997 – Healing the Body – Healing the Mind

The morning started out with a Feldenkrais class incorporating arm movements. I couldn’t believe how exhausted I was when returned home! I found it necessary to settle into another guided imagery tape after lunch to even have a chance of making my day.

Next came a very revealing guided imagery session with Leslie Davenport at Marin General. I began talking about my fears of the upcoming chemotherapy and radiation and traced the fears down many, many levels to my fears of abandonment and treatment with indifference that experienced as a child. While there wasn’t time for a complete resolution of the situation, I think that there is much more work to do in this area. I feel rather pressured to perform because I have expectations of completing the Shipley protocol with a complete response and not have remaining cancer at the end of April or the beginning of May when my next TURBT will be.

After this session, I took a thirty minute walk on the pathway near the hospital to absorb what I had learned from my meditation and to allow the images to integrate into my life. As I was walking back to my car, I had this wonderful feeling of making myself lovable, not only to myself, but to everyone I saw and came in contact with. I took this feeling into Anna Halprin’s group and it turned into one of the most healing events of my life. I was open to receiving and giving love and there was plenty to go around! We had a large discussion on alternative healing prior to our movement program.

The movement program focused on prayer, and I don’t know if Anna picked up this idea from me, or I got it several minutes before she said anything, but it was the exact word I would have chosen! This intuitive flash led to an immensely moving dance, which brought the whole group together in one circle, filled with healing energy and love.

I drew a picture of myself kneeling in the prayer position with my hands drawn together in the traditional prayer position. The hands were way out of proportion, but as the drawing developed, I began to realize that I was also drawing the healing space around my hand and the healing energy radiating from them. I wrote,

all hands
healing hands
kneeling hands
a Buddha is a rose is a giver of qi
a 1000 petal lotus

Something remarkable is taking place as I focus on healing my cancer. I find that I can’t but help heal my whole self. Without healing my whole self, there can be no healing of my cancer. They are strongly interconnected as all phenomena of the universe are. And, I believe, this is the essence of holistic health – healing the body and healing the mind. This is what I’m striving for and what I want to achieve.

>>> Next…



January 27, 1997 – First Hospital Stay, Continued

My refusal to sign the operation afforded me another whole day of waiting. In the morning, I had visits from Dr. Belknap and Dr. Neuwirth, both of which were very helpful in pointing out the pros and cons of the alternative anesthetic methods, but I still hadn’t made up my mind. I wanted to speak with an expert.

Dr. Neuwirth tried to prepare me for the best case scenario, which would involve complete resection of the bladder tumor followed by quarterly inspections with a cystoscopy and possibly coupled with chemotherapy agents inserted directly in the bladder. I found this discussion rather informative, but would have preferred a more accurate reading of my tumor.

Since my daughter was ill, my wife couldn’t be with me the whole time, so I spent the day receiving phone calls and visitors, and listening to classical music, and Dr. Rossman’s tape. Since I couldn’t eat or drink, my thoughts continually turned to food, especially when my roommate ate his meals. In between time, I continued my meditation and visualization practices, which kept me from getting to anxious about the ensuing operation.

At around 3:00 P. M., my wife returned to the hospital, just in time for the meeting with the anesthesiologist. His name was Christophe Dannello and he was very nice. He carefully explained the various options, and with his guidance, I decided to go with the epidural.

Transurethral Resection of Bladder Tumor (TURBT)

Around 6:30 P.M., they came to wheel me off to surgery. I grabbed Dr. Rossman’s tape and headed off to the operating room. I was given a sedative intravenously and placed on the table. A moment later, a small needle was applied to my lower back and I was turned over and placed into position. The oxygen feeder was placed in my nose and my legs were positioned in place for the surgery.

Then… I was gone! I woke up in the recovery room and spent what seemed like only fifteen minutes there. I was taken back to my room and my wife was with me for the next half-hour or so. Then she had to get home to the children, so there I was, lying flat on my back with a catheter in me. I started to feel pain from the epidural and was given “candy” – vicodin. This controlled the pain.

I proceeded to do my “mind story” and had a fairly good night sleep until I was rudely awakened for vital signs around midnight. Luckily, the rest of the night was uneventful, even though I was leaking blood through my catheter.