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Straight Talk Recovery – Episode 7: Mindfulness

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Transcription of Episode 7: Mindfulness

Adam Kostiw: Welcome to another episode of Straight Talk or Recovery, I’m your host, Adam Kostiw and our co-host. Raymond Moore is here with us today. And so, Ray, why don’t you introduce us to a great young guest that we have today.

Raymond Moore: Yeah. So, you know, I’m happy that we have another guest on the show. I thought it went really well with Nathaniel. And we wanted to get more people on the show and then kind of get different perspectives on certain things. And we’ve decided to invite Ramond Phipps, who is the program manager at Trafalgar Residence, onto the show today to talk about a very important topic in many treatment facilities. And many treatment programs are really geared kind of around this. And Ramond will share with us a little bit later. But today’s session is on mindfulness. So, first of all, welcome, Ramond. How are you doing?

Ramond Phipps: I’m doing well. Thank you so much for having me, guys, actually.

Raymond Moore: Yeah. So for me, this is a very challenging topic. And I know for you it’s a very easy one. I tell you, you’re the perfect guy to talk to. So could you just give us a kind of understanding of what mindfulness actually is? I know it’s been around for I mean, for a very, very, very long time, obviously, but it’s definitely becoming at the forefront of a lot of different therapies and important in a lot of people’s lives. So can you give us an idea of what mindfulness is all about?

Ramond Phipps: Yes. So actually, when I started mindfulness myself, I was introduced to it when I was about 14 years old. Believe it or not, it was a part of this extracurricular activity I was doing in my high school years. I was part of a wrestling team. I love my athletics as a child. And we had this one particular coach. I’ll never forget her name. Her name is Miss Dunlop. She always used to incorporate yoga into our training regimen. And from there, I never really understood the value of what mindfulness is. You always just kind of throw out that word. And I would always just think to myself, stretching, down dog, all this weird stuff that seems like all the hippies are into, I never really grasped onto the concept of what being aware truly was. She also allowed us to do things like breathwork. And again, as a child, this idea of finding this mental attitude where you are at peace with something so far removed from my experience that I never even wanted it in the first place. It wasn’t until later on in life where I started to explore different religions and philosophies and my post-secondary years, where I was introduced to the Janic and Buddhist religions where or spirituality, as some people call them, where mindfulness was a prime component of their overall teachings and from there understanding why people practice mindfulness was a lot more clear for me, because my biggest resistance to it was that this is hippy-dippy monk, Buddhist nonsense. And I thought to myself, why? Why do people do this? There are so much easier ways to find peace, such as using drugs or getting high.

There were a lot easier ways to find my escape. So why meditate? But then I heard one thing, one thing very important, and it was actually from this Buddhist practitioner that I had the chance to meet when I was very young, still very private, my own addictive tendencies I twenty two years old, they told me that mindfulness is about awareness. That’s it. Chill out. Just be aware of that. Well, that sounds very easy, but then start to explore that a little bit as the years went on. And I even came across a lot of educational concepts, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction that was created by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is a very renowned mindfulness educator in North America. And they expanded on that overall phrase of just being aware to being aware, absent judgement. And that’s what the true definition of mindfulness is, to allow your mind to be aware of what is going on, what your thoughts and your feelings absent judgement, meaning that we are allowing ourselves to remove the attitude of judgment towards what we see and what we feel. And that’s the biggest component of mindfulness away from all the yoga that you see, away from even the ground and exercises that many people would use in mental health therapies to be aware enough to look at what’s going on with you, detached from judging what’s going on with you is the main foundation of mindfulness is.

Adam Kostiw: We know that mindfulness. We hear it as a catchphrase everywhere. Now in popular society, you can’t go anywhere without hearing it, whether it’s on the radio, whether you’re walking down the street, a yoga studio, have it there. You’ll see naturopath, you’ll see it everywhere. Mindfulness in common media. As well, so when we talk about mindfulness and recovery, right, is there any difference between the mindfulness that they talk about in social media, in the general population, in to the type that you promote in the recovery programs?

Ramond Phipps: Yes, mindfulness. It goes along with a lot of the therapeutic methodologies that people will be educated on in treatment programs or in mental health services to allow yourself to eventually get to a point where you can master the direction of your thoughts. Even something like CBT was based on cognitive behavioural therapy. There’s no way that you’re going to be able to change your thought pattern without recognizing your thought pattern in the first place. And that’s why I’m glad that mindfulness now is a big buzzword. Even on my own social media accounts, I communicate a term that says, stay mindful is something I use what the clients that I work with as well as stay mindful, stay mindful, stay mindful. And in this buzzword, it’s just a reminder to, of course, stay aware, to stay present, to stay here so that we can see exactly what the fact of the matter is. Because too often, especially in regard to that transition from addiction to recovery, do we try to run away from what’s actually going on with us emotionally and mentally speaking. And when we try to run away, we just look for our easy fixes, whether that be a drug, a behavioural or another distraction to be mindful allows us to actually be brave enough to engage with a lot of those emotional and mental discomforts so that we can truly overcome them, especially in the process of recovery. So, in that same respect, I think that mindfulness, if you’re talking about any population like there is kids, there’s old age populations or people that are just looking for fulfillment in life, in any demographic, I think that the demographic of people in recovery to be mindfully aware is the most important thing for them to have a successful long-term process and journey throughout this next phase in their life.

Raymond Moore: The only issue I have with this and it’s not an issue I’m saying this personally, I love hearing you talk and I’m listening to everything that you’re saying. And one of the things that keeps coming up in my mind is about slowing down. When you talk about being aware, the world goes so fast, so many things are happening, family life, work-life, social life, whatever it may be. I’m hearing you basically telling me personally, slow down, become aware of what’s actually happening with you. And I know any time I’ve tried to teach mindfulness, to talk to people or even incorporate in my own life, there’s always this talk of speed that seems to come up. So, I know I haven’t quite got to the meditation part of it as of yet. But, you know, the one thing I often hear is my brain races too fast. Right? It’s hard to stay in the moment because I’m typically thinking about what’s happening for me right now. The person in front of me, my shopping list, did the dog pee on the carpet, am I late for work. Oh, my goodness, it’s raining. My brain never stops. Include trauma in there as well. Certain things that just keep my brain racing consistently and constantly. So how do I incorporate mindfulness into my life seeing that my brain flies at about two hundred miles an hour?

Ramond Phipps: Ok, so let’s conceptualize that just for a moment and I’m going to do you one better. I’m going to put in the most extreme example somebody can find themselves. And in regard to their mental condition, somebody that has ADD or ADHD, that seems like the worst-case scenario of racing or distracting thought patterns. And yes, we always do have so many different obligations in life or even again, as you mentioned, our traumas that may play a role in building our daily anxieties and stresses. But for somebody with ADD and ADHD, it might seem like those things are frail, the uncontrollable. Gabor Mate one of the leading addiction physicians in here in Canada has a great talk and a book called Scattered Minds, where he actually explores how people with ADD like symptoms actually come into this particular condition in their life. And it’s brilliant the way that he kind of examines it because it’s a telling story of how behavioural conditioning can lead to a lot of these predisposed thought patterns that we may find ourselves in. So, for example, a child witnesses their parents arguing back and forth throughout the course of their entire childhood. Eventually, they learn to cope with that behaviour, maladaptive more so than adaptively. And when they are coping, they usually tend to engage in this mental condition of tuning out where they just check out they play with their toys. They act like nothing’s going on. They become numb to the sounds around them. And with that in itself, they effectively allow themselves to cope. But it’s just not in a healthy way. Now, this becomes a condition pattern for the brain, which eventually might lead into senses of ADD and ADHD in their later stages in life. Now, we could take that same concept and apply it to these daily stresses that we experience where we’re just thinking about the thousand and one things that we have to do within our twenty-four-hour day. And then ask yourself, why do I think this way in the first place, and that’s how we start to really engage with mindfulness and understand what our difficulties are and how we can then correct them if we have trouble with our overactive thought patterns and itself, if only because we are conditioned to do so, we are conditioned to allow these thoughts to run wild. And we’ve been doing it for the entirety of our life until somebody told YOU to stay mindful. And then it’s hard to actually go against that because here you are working against the natural patterns and flow of your overall brain.

So, in choosing to be mindful, it’s understandable that that difficulty exists in that first place, meaning that I have these thought patterns that just continue to race. And they might be latching on to many different anxieties in my life. And I find it hard. But the beautiful thing about mindfulness is it doesn’t ask us to ignore that. It doesn’t ask us to even take that away for the mindful moment. It asks us to engage with that. So when you choose to practice a mindful exercise, for example, such as meditation or grounding exercise, or the five senses exercise, which we can explore if you want on this podcast, you are asking yourself to make a choice to be here present aware with all those thoughts, with all those anxieties, but just to pay attention without that judgment attached to it, because the only thing that’s going to be building your stress is building your fear is building your worries about going to the next thing done is your judgment. So, we want to be able to use that same neuroplasticity that conditioned our mind into having these overactive thought patterns to now change in the way that we respond to these overactive thought patterns. So, it’s not about creating a void or eliminating them from your mind. It’s about changing how we respond to actually viewing them. It’s kind of like kicking back and watching a movie. Imagine, what is your guys’ favourite movie.

Raymond Moore: I’ll throw out Rocky. I love Rocky.

Adam Kostiw: The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai.

Ramond Phipps: Okay, interesting choices of themselves. So, the first step you might have watched that movie. You would have been engaged and interested. It would have been the most stimulating experience of your life. But the second, third, fourth, tenth time that you watch that movie is, you know, what’s coming next and what to expect. But because you deem it as your favourite movie, it’s still something of interest to you. But again, that’s just how our mind works eventually just to become desensitized to the things that are overly stimulated to us. So with mindfulness as a practice, we consistently allow ourselves to tune in to what’s going on, absent judgement. And the more and more we do this, we start to desensitize our overall stress response to it. No matter if that’s trauma or no matter if this is your overactive imagination that’s creating anxiety-based thinking patterns for you, you start to desensitize that overall response to stress, which hormonally means that you’re not going to get as escalated. And when you’re not as escalated hormonally, it means that then we’re able to control those obsessive thinking patterns that can lead us into those panic or high anxiety episodes.

Raymond Moore: I just want to backtrack for a second, because you totally smashed the nail. Like I absolutely love how you described it. I actually got goosebumps. I remember I heard this once before, and it’s really what got me into mindfulness. I was definitely a big critic of it. It’s like I’m just wired way too fast for this. I just can’t slow down. I’ve had this issue my whole life, etc.. But it wasn’t until somebody actually told me it’s not about being aware of your thoughts and eliminating them. Right. So during meditation there was always this. And I know the vast majority of people I work with, there tends to be this idea that you need to clear out all of your thoughts, get rid of them and sit basically within that moment in the second and feel your body, which for some, including those with trauma, is absolutely impossible. But you nailed it on the head. And I think so many people do not understand this is it’s not about getting rid of those thoughts. It’s about being aware that they’re there. And even if they are thoughts of anxiety or whatever they may be, it’s just allowing your attention to be focused on it. Don’t try to push them away. Just allow them to be. And when you allow them to be and you get connected with that, it becomes much, much easier to actually deal with that rather than trying to forcefully push it away. I mean, it’s coming to your brain for a reason, whatever that reason may be. And it’s important to just simply be aware of the fact that the thoughts are there and avoid this idea of eliminating them or or, you know, deeming something as being a good thought versus a bad thought or whatever it may be. Just allow yourself to be in that moment. Allow yourself to think, allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling in that moment, become aware of that. So thank you. That was absolutely brilliant. I love how you describe things.

Adam Kostiw: Right. So I want to add to that. This is from a therapeutic side, from a therapist, when we go in and we’re working with clients, we are actually being hypersensitive to what’s going on for them. We’re being mindful of everything they say, every movement they make, and we’re bringing it to their attention, trying to get them to be mindful, to actually recognize that. So that’s the role of the therapist in the in a therapeutic setting. So for you, Ramond, when you’re dealing with people who are new to this whole concept of mindfulness and because you do it every morning with one form or another with the clients, so when you have that client who is starting off for the very first time and they’re the ones that are struggling and you can see it, you pick up on their body language or whatever, what do you do to help them to get mindful?

Ramond Phipps: If I can be completely honest with you. The first thing I do when I see somebody having trouble with mindfulness exercises is I chuckle quite a bit. I laugh at the whole situation. It’s quite funny because, one, it’s a part of a process. And I’ve been there myself and to eventually I know that they will hit a wall where they feel like they just can do it. And when they hit that, while they’re going to be able to surprise themself, if they at least allow themselves to continue the consistency and effort and what it means to cultivate a mindful practice. I’m very glad that you asked that question because I just want to highlight three different practices that I tend to allow our clients to participate in. And even generally the people that I teach mindfulness to. I usually try to highlight these things so that we can see that mindfulness is not only something that has to do with meditation, but it actually has to do with a lot of different engagements of our life, if not every engagement of our life from our communication with other people to when we choose to exercise or when we just choose to spend time alone. It’s about being aware and making a conscious intention to be aware.

So, the first activity that I’ll usually give somebody that has issues with mindful exercises is journaling. Now, there are three different ways that you could journal. Just go through them really quickly. There’s reflective journaling in which you’re just depicting accurate representations or depictions of your life experiences. This is something that helps you put out your narrative on a piece of paper and be able to reflect on it. That reflection is a mindful experience, but there’s also a second form of journaling, which is processing where you just express allow yourself to put whatever it is on a page, whatever thought, whatever emotion. And even that is a mindful engagement because you are here and you are aware you might not be able to conceptualize or understand everything that you’re putting out there, but it’s about the experience, not really about the overall resultant effect. Too much people get trapped in trying to find the outcome of what we call this dopaminergic rise, where they feel like they’re going to be blissful in this meditative state and they can release themself everything. But that dopaminergic rise is very similar to how an addict seeks their dopamine, their cries from the drugs that they use, or even those people with very strict behavioural patterns, such as allowing their anger to manifest itself into aggression. Again, we’re seeking this dopamine precrisis, reward-seeking chemical is what drives our life. So we got to learn how to control that. The third form of journaling has to do with goal setting and contemplation just looking towards the future. And these are just three separate ways that we can write words on a paper. But all of that is a mindful engagement. But we know what that helps people do. It helps them become more comfortable with fit in there, with observing what is going on, thought-wise, what is going on, feeling wise and committing to an activity until its completion, no matter what form of journaling you try.

So that is one easy activity that will give people. One dynamic activity that I’m kind of known for, is breathwork. I really love breathwork because whether you believe in it or not, it will work. It’s about hormonal parasympathetic nervous system stimulation. If you take in oxygen and you let out carbon dioxide, you’re already starting to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is going to be responsible for your overall fight-flight freeze mechanisms and your ability to even do things like promote your appetite and promote regulation in your mood. And sleep goes along with that. Added benefits beyond the point, though, when we’re choosing to do better, taking some air in holding it and then letting it out on a paced rhythm prompt, then with that stimulation in itself, we find that benefit much more quickly for those mindful experiences that a lot of individuals are seeking to often do. I see people say I entered a trance-like state when I went through a breathing activity with you Ramond or, you know, I think I found myself in this mess. It’s beautiful. It’s amazing to see you really and truly, but really and truly all they’re doing is they’re regulating their stress. And when they’re in periods where they finally regulate their stress, they’re able to see things a lot more clearly and have these very amazing experiences that’s always been there, but it’s been clouded and jaded by so much of anxieties in their life. Rhetoric is the second activity that I usually try to educate people on. And the third is as simple as it sounds, just committing to an understimulated activity. We want to be stimulated too much. Most people find it hard not to be stimulated. Heck, even when you’re at home doing nothing at all, you’re probably doing as much as you realistically can to stimulate yourself and watching TV, playing video games or even just stroking your beard. All of these things in themselves are stimulated effect for us. So I challenge people sometimes to do nothing whatsoever. And this is how you actually start to build a meditation practice because you’ve got to get used to doing nothing whatsoever. So how this looks in realistic scenarios is I would tell somebody to go for a walk for at least twenty to thirty-five minutes. If you have a phone put it on airplane mode, don’t listen to music because that’s cheating and just engage with the world around you. And in this, you will find your true self because your anxieties are going to boil. You’re going to want to quit, you’re going to want to do something that’s more stimulated. The point is not to to allow that stress to build so that you can observe it, get used to it, become more aware, and then prove to yourself that you do have control and mastery over your mind.

Raymond Moore: I want to challenge the listeners to actually do that. And if it’s an activity that I’ve suggested to people before and I’ve done it myself because I’m always flying at 100 miles an hour is just even then I know it sounds so simple to the point. People are not even going to try it, but I highly suggest that you try to sit for 15 minutes with nothing as Ramond said, absolutely nothing. Just 15 minutes without your phone, without anything happening around you and just sit. But just to get an idea of what it’s like for 15 minutes to sit with yourself, maybe even after this podcast, sit with yourself for 15 minutes and really become aware of what it is you’re feeling. Because I know when I started this, I felt anxious immediately one minute in and I was like, this is stupid. I’m not going to do it. And grabbed my phone, basically showing my inability to actually sit with my own self, let alone wonder why other people may struggle with dealing with this.

Adam Kostiw: That’s the question that was leading up to it. First, thank you for pointing out that I was stroking my beard. Second of all is just where Ray left off is from watching when you’ve done these classes. Why do you think people are so distressed at times doing mindfulness when they first start?

Ramond Phipps: I believe that people are usually distressed with the practice of mindfulness because they’re distressed with themself. They don’t know themselves. They are not willing to engage with themselves. They tried especially in an environment that we work and to run away from themself for such a long period of time. So the moment that they’re forced to sit with themselves, they do feel like it is forced when in fact, I try to educate you, that’s a choice and it’s an option to be there with yourself. And it’s a great honor for you to provide that to yourself. But most people, they again, they notice that for the entirety of their life. So the moment that now it’s back to that Gabor Mate, the way the brain wires itself to dissociate in regard to stressful situations with about retrade in our mind to allow in it to engage with stress in a much more healthy and confident manner. It’s not about eliminating the stress. We’re never going to eliminate stress in our life, nor should we ever try to pursue that because our stress is what helps us survive. It helps them make us productive is what puts us as athletes in the zone.

The stress is a very useful tool. It’s about how we respond to that stress and that’s what we try to change. But the mindfulness people who have discomfort with themselves have a lot of unresolved issues with themself. And a lot of these have to do with insecurities and anxieties. But that’s OK as well, too, because the great thing about mindfulness is it challenges us to be in a position of acceptance, acceptance towards all of these things. This is where that nonjudgmental peace comes into play. And with that, you only are working towards a better sense of self the more and more you practice mindful engagement because when you’re getting in touch with yourself to you’re allowing yourself to see that even though you’re stressed, it doesn’t mean that you have to run away from it. And three, you’re creating this holistic experience that you’re finally learning to like exactly who you are, stressed or not stressed. And that’s all we can really ask for from this human experience to one day accept ourself with mindfulness. We just happened to fast-track that.

Adam Kostiw: Ok, so for those who have never done mindfulness before, who might be listening in today, just a quick little intro, how they should start.

Ramond Phipps: A great way to start mindfulness is exactly. I mentioned in the third activity start by doing something understimulated so that you see what your overall tolerance to stress is, if you know that you can’t even commit to five minutes doing something under stimulating that, you know, you probably got some work to do. So, you always want to kind of a baseline to see where you are with that in itself. It’s just a matter of finding activities that you are interested in in order to cultivate your mindful experiences, to become more consistent and to become more beneficial. Sure meditation is a great way to go about this but meditation doesn’t work for everybody. And in that regard, I would recommend that you try breathwork as opposed to meditation because that creates a lot more instantaneous stimulation that you can benefit from while giving you all the added benefits of mindfulness. But if those items in themself don’t sound very interesting to you, and there are always different ways to go about mindfulness and learning about it, start off by reading a book maybe based on the same topic. As I mentioned, Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the founders of North American mindfulness, created a great guideline to be able to explore this. And if you do want more intellectual experience and learning about mindfulness, that’s great. But just always remember, at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to you and you sitting with you, you engaging with you. You learn more about yourself. So, the sooner you’re ready to just hop into that is the sooner you’re going to be able to reach the benefits. But if you do want other approaches, as I mentioned, there are three different activities that I highlighted in this podcast. Just review it and of course, try them one at a time and see what works for you.

Adam Kostiw: Ok, so before we wrap up, I got to at least give you an opportunity, Ramond, to plug your own YouTube channel. So why don’t you go out and let the listeners know how they can get to follow you.

Ramond Phipps: Awesome. So if you’re interested in social media content that’s based on mental health, education and mindfulness, then please feel free to follow me on YouTube. The channel name is the detail. Or if you search my name directly in a search bar on YouTube, R-A-M-O-N-D P-H-I-P-P-S you’ll be able to find my videos, click on them and learn a bit. Stay mindful.

Adam Kostiw: All right. Thank you so much, Ramond. We really appreciate you being on with us today. And so on behalf of myself, Adam Kostiw and my co-host Raymond Moore, we are signing off once again and we’re reminding you, stay mindful. Keep talking. Thank you.

Raymond Moore: Bye, everybody.

Ramond Phipps: Goodbye.

Other Episodes

Episode 1: Introduction

Episode 2: Anger

Episode 3: Relationships

Episode 4: Co-dependency

Episode 5: Self-Compassion

Episode 6: Virtual Addiction and Mental Health Treatment

Episode 8: Grief

Episode 9: Porn Addiction

Episode 10: Infidelity in Relationships

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