Dharma Care - Pastoral Care and Counseling from Buddhist Perspectives
     Teachers, leaders and caregivers who practice mindful meditation know the benefits of becoming more aware in real time, as well as the benefits of calm sensations, but there is perhaps a "secret" benefit for leaders who practice mindful meditation (MN 10) -- noticing themselves as a person differentiated in their family of origin.  A differentiated person, according to Peter L. Steinke in his book Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times, is one who is better able to:
 
  • think clearly
  • act on principle
  • define self by taking a position
  • know more about thieir own instinctive reactions to others
  • learn to regulate those reactions
  • stay in contact with others
  • choose a responsible course of action
 
Noticing the differentiated person in real time proves invaluable when teachers, leaders and others in authority positions are triangulated by people uncomfortable confronting people the authoritative person knows.  Here's how the secret works.
     Mindful meditation affects the limbic (reptilian) system.  It is the limbic system (without mindful meditation) that causes people to react in a fight or flight mode when threats occur (www.effective-mind-control.com/limbic-system.html).  Teachers, leaders and spiritual caregivers, like everyone else, will be exposed to people and situations that feel or appear threatening because of their family of origin conditioning, but whose work and relationships will suffer if the threatening feeling is met with fight or flight.  The job is to learn how to recognize the truth of the situation and not get caught in delusion stemming from family or origin conditioning.  Differentiation holds the key.
     Psychiatrist Murray Bowen, in his family systems work, focused on how people become differentiated (their own person) from the people in their family of origin.  Generally speaking, parents transmit their lack of differentiation onto their children due to feelings of anxiety.  The anxiety is passed to the children and the children rebel, conform or react in some way that inhibits development.  Fast forward, the children are now adults with some anxiety they've inherited from their parents.  The anxiety arises (often unconsciously) in contact with people who are like members of their family of origin.  Fight or flight sensations arise and real relationship with self and other is hindered.  Mindful meditation helps slow down the fight or flight sensations to help leaders remain present to the differentiated self and the real person seeking their counsel and care.  The differentiated mindful self can say silently when threats are perceived, "I am aware of a sensation.  This sensation makes we want to be defensive or find a way to leave the conversation.  This is not my father, this is Bob.  He just reminds me of my father.  I'm Fred's son and Fred is not here.  This is Bob and I'm Bob's counselor/chaplain/teacher/leader."  Mindful meditation helps make the limbic system less reactive.  Mindfulness helps us be aware of an overactive limbic system.  How does being aware of our less reactive states help us take care of ourselves when people triangulate us?
     Spiritual caregivers, leaders and teachers are often requested to get involved in situations between people with the hope that our perceived or real authority will be utilized for a particular outcome.  Leaders who are unaware of the agenda of the person (who might also be unaware) may agree to get involved in a relationship that does not concern them.  This can happen over and over again, especially in large sanghas.  The results can be calamitous to the leader (in terms of burn out) and the sangha (in terms of splits).  A leader who is differentiated and aware of the limbic sensations can better discern the situation they are being invited into, thereby avoiding triangulation, burnout and splits in the community.  The ability to say "No" to triangulation holds a gift.
     When a leader skilfully and transparently avoids triangulation, they can empower the counselee to confront what needs to be confronted.  Saying "no" to triangulation is also a teaching opportunity in mindful awareness of how unresolved family of origin reactions can be managed through mindful meditation of the body.  One of the secrets of mindfulness is healthy leadership that is more sustainable, sangha friendly, and family friendly because it holds the possibility of transmitting less anxiety onto those we counsel as well as our sanghas.
 
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