PP 120: Dr. Linda Lehrhaupt, Executive Director of the Institute for Mindfulness Based Approaches
Dr. Linda Lehrhaupt and I shared an enlightening conversation about mindfulness. I was especially amazed to discover just how often I spend my days thinking about the past or future rather than enjoying the present moment.
Connect with Dr. Linda
KIM: Welcome back to another episode of Positive Productivity. This is your host Kim Sutton, and today I have Linda Lehrhaupt. Linda I’m going to ask you to pronounce that the right way in just a moment, and Linda is the executive director of the Institute for Mindfulness Based Approaches and also the co-author of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Welcome so much Linda.
LINDA: Thank you for inviting me.
KIM: Oh you’re very welcome. And for the listeners sake can you please say your last name in the beautiful way that you do – which is so much better than mine.
LINDA: Actually you did a pretty good job. My name is Lehrhaupt.
KIM: I’m going to listen to this episode about 18 times until I can say it properly.
LINDA: It actually was lovely to move to Germany in 1983 because my name finally was no longer a problem. Everybody had no problem spelling it and saying it. So that was one joy of moving over.
KIM: Linda has nothing absolutely nothing to do with your book but I have to say that even in the States people find difficulty saying Sutton, which really cracks me up sometimes. I get Suten and Suton.
And it’s American people that are saying, it’s not an issue of accent – and you know the simple things like that which make us laugh from a daily basis. Maybe we’re saying it not as it is initially intended.
However Linda, I would love to jump into your story and what you are doing now and then gradually work into speaking about your book.
Would you please share with the audience about your background. You know how you began or how you got into the Institute for Mindfulness Based Approaches.
LINDA: OK well the Institute for Mindfulness Based Approaches is a training institute where we train the trainers, and I have been in education – well now it’s 45 years. So the whole field has always really interested me and particularly in working in training others to teach others.
I’ve taught different things. I started my life in 1971 as a high school English and drama teacher but I went pretty quickly into adult education because I felt that was the field where I really enjoyed working the most. The work that I do actually started in 1978 or 79′ when I myself began practicing Tai Chi and Qiqong, and they were my hobbies.
I was doing a doctorate at the time and preparing for an academic career. But I loved these Chinese art forms which until I saw them I never knew what they were. And in 1979, as a result of a family crisis in which I lost my mother and my young daughter, who was only three months old, and I felt really kind of lost about how to go on. I began practicing Zen meditation, which again I never really knew what it was. I read a little book and I started practicing. And those three arts really shaped the rest of my life.
In 1983 I decided to move to Germany because I met my husband and we decided to live in Germany, where he’s from. And I was continuing my meditation practice my academic work, and then in 1992 I picked up a book from Professor Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn who founded the method in which I later went on to train which is called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Jon Kabat-Zinn was a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and he developed a stress reduction program based on intensive training in mindfulness. It really became very well known in the early 1990s when Bill Moyers profiled it on public television.
I myself in those days actually was completely unknown in Europe. I was the first person in Germany and one of the first on the continent actually, who became interested and went on to train in it.
I loved it because it combined my interest in meditation and meditative movement and education.
And slowly, slowly it became known over here and we began getting requests for training programs and one thing led to another, and in 2001 I founded the Institute and this is now our 16th year. And we’ve gone from having one program in one country to having programs in eight European countries, and also really experiencing teaching this work not only in German, which became my main language, but in English and in Polish and French and Greek and other languages. And that’s what I do today. So we’ve grown from a faculty of five to a faculty of 25.
And it’s also been wonderful to see how mindfulness based interventions, or approaches we call them now, or programs, have become so – I guess you could say mainstream. I come from the time when nobody knew what the word mindfulness meant, and even might raise an eyebrow here and there if you talked about meditation or something like that. And I think it’s been a really rich and wonderful gift that we now have and a resource that we can offer people across the board.
Today mindfulness is in the schools, it’s in government, it’s in health care, it’s in mental health. It’s beautiful to see how it has spread and I’m very proud to have played a role in helping to train teachers along with my wonderful staff that this practice can be a part of life for so many people.
KIM: Linda one of the topics that you discuss in the book that really surprised me and educated me, and made me more aware, was when you were discussing that mindfulness is not about not thinking about anything and not clearing our mind and making it empty, but it’s about being in the moment. And that was a wow to me! And I apologize – this could be TMI, too much information there. However, even in the shower this morning I realized that I was focusing on what happened in the past and what I need to focus on for the future instead of just being in the present moment. So thank you! I mean, just enjoying the water and the warmth and the smell of a soap and being where I was right then.
LINDA: Well I’m very happy that you’ve had that experience and also want to reassure you that everyone has that experience when they begin to practice mindfulness, or when they begin to turn their attention to the present moment. They realize how much of the time we’re either in the past remembering or thinking about things or sometimes even grumbling about things, or in the future or making plans or we’re worried, or things like that, and how really rarely we are in the present moment.
And when we even begin to get a taste of what that might be – turning toward now and really sinking our roots into now, where we are anyway, but we’re often trying to run away from now. And that’s understandable sometimes. We may be having a very difficult situation, or we may be in pain, or we may have just had a fight with our partner or with a colleague. All sorts of things that often, and particularly if we’re overwhelmed with work or other kinds of situations, we just want to get away because we haven’t really had the learning of how to be in the present moment in a way where we can appreciate it.
And at the same time also have the possibility of truly working with whatever situation we’re facing. Running away or turning away, or distracting ourselves, which everyone does, pretty quickly find out don’t really help. There are kinds of temporary ways of escaping but the present moment, or being able to be with whatever is happening, is not only a much more, let’s say: life enhancing way, but it’s also very practical. It is now.
And if we can learn to practice by continually being present to what is, we have an opportunity to make skillful decisions to be able to assess things in a more skillful way. I don’t know, for myself personally, I found it was a tremendous resource, which I was basically throwing away a lot because I didn’t really know how to do it. You know any time we begin to try to practice mindfulness, it’s not so easy. We find, as you said, you’re either in the present moment or in the past, but it does take a bit of practice. But we have it available just like you described this morning in the shower. Just picking up the bar of soap and smelling it or feeling the water draining over us are wonderful ways of practicing mindfulness and realizing the gifts and the opportunities that life offers us.
KIM: Well as you and many of the listeners may know, I’m a mom of five. There’s another section where you’re talking about the exercise with eating raisins – listeners all of the show notes and resources that we do talk about, before I continue, will be in the show notes and you can find the show notes at thekimsutton.com/pp130 for episode 130.
So there is a section where there is an exercise with eating a reason and it made me think about how often especially in my house we rush through eating. We have to get somewhere – we have to get to daycare and we have to get the sports practice. I have a podcast interview so let’s just shove this food in our mouth and get it done, and get our belly fed rather then enjoying. So I am actually, I can smell my potpie in oven right now – don’t worry it’s not going to burn, but I look forward to being in the moment and enjoying my lunch today.
LINDA: Hmm well that’s a wonderful application of mindfulness in everyday life. And I think that’s one of the wonderful things about mindfulness, it’s not about going off to some meditation center or sitting down and everything has to be quiet, and whatever, although it can be helpful to go to meditation center or to go to a place where one might be able to practice for a time. But the real strength of mindfulness is its application in everyday life. And so what you’re talking about – sometimes we suggest in class, we ask people to practice a mindful eating as an exercise once a week. And it’s so interesting. The responses of when people come back and say things like, “you know I never tasted my food before,” or, “I never noticed how fast I ate.” Some of the things you’ve been describing, and all it takes is just for one moment make a decision.
I’m going to take this moment one moment at a time and just taste the food and look at the food and smell the food.
Mindfulness helps us to maybe not have to wait so many years but to really appreciate our life, to savor it like we savor food, and also to be able to be with everything we have. Both the joy and sorrow, the pain and other things that we may have as a kind of a rich opportunity to live this life that we have. And again it’s not always easy but we have the capacity, and mindfulness is the capacity to pay attention on purpose in the present moment.
KIM: If you don’t mind I’m going to read a passage that I would love you to expand upon.
LINDA: Well please do. Yeah.
KIM: Page 24: “When we practice mindfulness we cultivate a spirit of not knowing. It is not that we know nothing. Rather keeping ‘don’t know’ mind encourages the willingness to meet whatever is before us without preconditions or preconceived ideas. We try to experience it as it is not as we think it is.” Linda would you mind discussing this passage. I absolutely love it, by the way.
LINDA: I think it’s very interesting that you picked on that passage because it’s so important to the aspect of mindfulness. However the state, where we willingly for a moment suspend what we know our ideas about things our preconceptions, even what we don’t know, because often what we don’t know is based on what we know, so we’re really willing to just be with what is as best we can, to allow us to experience something beyond what we think it is.
And at the same time, it allows us to go back into our life and into our work and into our relationships and see what we’ve not been seeing, because we so often have in fact a very closed mind to things. And so practicing with a spirit of ‘don’t know’ means, among other things, to be really curious to be curious about things and that allows us a much wider and a much richer way of being.
It just came up for me a very practical application. I remember my husband and I and we’ve been together now 37 years. So at some point we were going through a particularly difficult time because I have a certain way of doing things. Let’s just say I’m kind of – if there’s something to be done, I get on my lists and write things down – OK, I’m going to do it this way, this way, this way.
And my husband comes from an artistic background and he’s much more creative in that kind of way, and his approach is exactly the opposite. He has that thing to do – he’ll stop, he’ll draw back, and he’ll take the long perspective and wider perspective. And in the early days for someone like me that seemed like, well you know, you’re not doing anything and you have to do this.
And then we did some counseling and what I realized was that the man I thought I knew, I didn’t know at all. I had so many preconceptions about how he should be. And I remember saying, “I feel like I met you for the first time,” and this was after 20 years. Once I could let go of my idea of I know him, and I know how it should be, I began to appreciate a whole other sense. And I don’t know if mind is really willing to let go of assumptions, to let go of what I think I know, to be willing to discover what I don’t yet know.
KIM: You just gave me marriage counseling.
LINDA: Well I’m happy if it’s helpful. I know it was a big, big eye opener for me.
KIM: No I mean extremely helpful. Listeners you’ve probably heard me talk about how Dave is a video game developer, and Linda you and I chatted about this a little bit pre-show, however, because I am the list person too Linda, I have everything planned out – I think for the next three months, but you know it never goes that way, but that’s ok. I have a plan. And then my husband also is the artistic part – artistic type, I should say. But as a videogame developer, I’ll find him playing games and scrolling through feeds of games, and to me because I’m not playing games, I think it’s a waste of time. If I were to do that, it would feel like a waste of time. But using that ‘not knowing’, I realize, just now when you were just talking, this is research – this is him beating his brain and getting to the place where he needs to be.
LINDA: Absolutely. And you know there’s been a lot of research now done on how important mind wandering is for creativity. My husband he would go out and get a big contract to do a huge garden and he’d come home and for the next three days he’d lay on the sofa at night, put on some soft music, and just lay there. And to begin with, I’d say, “what’s going on? You have this big contract! Don’t you have to go upstairs and draw all your plans, or get out your computer and everything?” He’d say, “no I’m planning now.” Just by laying there quietly with soft music.
And today I understand of course – this was many many years ago 30 years ago when I wasn’t so attuned to all these kinds of ways, but the mind wandering is not a kind of spacing out in a negative way. It’s really just allowing the mind to wander.
It actually relaxes the mind. I think there’s a very famous quote by Albert Einstein. I’ve heard, that many scientists get their most brilliant ideas not when they’re focused, you know working on the paper, but actually a moment of freedom or just taking a walk or just relaxing, or maybe just before going to sleep at night. Out of that kind of state can cause tremendous creativity. And so this kind of ‘get to it, work hard’ and this, is not always the best way for these kind of creative leaps, so to speak.
KIM: You had me cracking up because actually I am writing a book, and this is something that we hadn’t discussed before – I’m writing a book called Chronic Idea Disorder. Because I get ideas all the time, and unless I have something to document it with, they fly out the window. But then I try to do too much at once – which is going to lead me into my next question actually. But that’s totally right, you know we’re going about our day and we get ideas and sometimes it feeds into what we’re working on and other times it doesn’t.
I wasn’t planning on talking about that but it serves as a perfect segue into my question for you which is: what are your thoughts, especially for the business owners and the audience, on mindfulness as it applies to multitasking. I know – that was a good one wasn’t it!
LINDA: I mean I’m not a scientist, in that sense. I’m aware of the research of things. But from what I understand, actually there is no such thing as multitasking, in the sense of being able to do five things at once. What I mean is, is that the brain changes extremely rapidly but it can’t hold five things at once.
It seems like it because it’s happening so fast but actually it has to make these continual normal logical shifts. I’m saying this in a very lame person’s kind of way but it has to make tremendous amount of shifting – trying to do too many things at once. But we get into an adrenaline high, and also this constant, not only the movement, but the brain having to constantly shift gears is really tiring. And we can do it for a while. But I notice now, at the more mature age that I am, that actually it’s exhausting and I was only able to carry it maybe when I was younger. But in fact it’s a kind of an irony because I’m not being as efficient as I thought I was. And in fact, the tasks that I’m working on suffer in quality.
KIM: Oh I completely agree. I cannot remember which episode it was, and I apologize to the guest on that episode, but there was a guest who recommended an app that I started using called Forest – which I can set timers, and while I am focused on that one task a tree will grow. And you can set it up on your phone or on your computer so that you can’t go to specific Web sites during that time. So for people who find themselves getting pulled into Instagram or Facebook, or you know, any time suckers, you can blacklist those apps for that time.
But what I’m loving is that I’m staying in the moment – when I do actually use the app, I have to get better at it. But even for only 25 minute blocks, I’m focused on that one thing more and I watch my forest grow.
LINDA: Well that’s a very interesting application. I think one of the subjects of mindfulness based stress reduction – maybe I can just briefly say what it is, basically MBSR, or mindfulness based stress reduction, takes place in the form of an eight week course – where people come once a week for two and a half to three hours. And there is a session between the sixth and seventh week, where there’s a whole day of practice of mindfulness, and they learned four main mindfulness exercises. One is called a body scan, and one is a sequence of gentle yoga – sitting meditation, and walking meditation. And each week has a theme. For example: what is mindfulness? Or another seem is in week two: how we see the world, because how we see things determines to a great extent whether we experience something as stressful or whether we can be busy but not necessarily stressed. So our perspective plays a key role in how we process situations. And another topic of week seven for example is what we take in. Yeah. Now this can be food. This can be media. This can be how we use our time. And this is so critical today – 20 years ago or even 15 years ago – I think the iPhone was invented in 2007, it first came on the market – so it’s maybe 10 or 15 years with what we’re living with now – what we call digital overload. In some cases it’s digital addiction. And the aspect of that, is it’s very difficult for us to monitor ourselves or pace ourselves.
And mindfulness can be really, really helpful because first of all becoming aware of the fact, it sounds like your app is helping you to remember that you are being pulled away, and giving you the opportunity to monitor yourself so that you can come back again to the present moment, and being aware of how we are distracted is in a way a kind of a stopping activity which is very important – you know we talk about putting the brakes on. But we first have to be even aware that we need to put the brakes on. And so often we’re not. So we have the practices of the mindfulness meditation exercises which really help us to ground in the body, to use working with the breathe, not working with, but being with the breath – breath meditation. We also have body meditation. The Yoga is tremendously helpful for having a sense of being in our bodies and not up in our heads, so to speak. And the walking meditation many people find that really, really helpful because one step at a time, one moment at a time. But this capacity to stop, I would say, is a very, very important element, even just taking – many of our participants tell us, that learning the awareness of breathing exercise and then being able to apply that at different times throughout the day, of course, it’s a very helpful, and we do this in the program meditation – we’re up to actually 40 minutes, by the time we get further on in the program. People sometimes can, we have what’s called the three minute breathing space, where for three minutes at a time just becoming aware of the breathe, becoming aware of our bodies, can be tremendously helpful for interrupting this constant wheel of moving, moving movement – that is something that gives me concern.
KIM: And me as well. Listeners I know some of you are probably at the gym or driving or working, as I do a lot of time when I’m listening to podcasts – Linda you just gave me an idea for my awesome editing team. When we close out the episode, I’d actually like you to please leave a three minute empty space before the intro because listeners just want you to appreciate everything around you.
Your book is out there and available right now: mindfulness based stress reduction. Where can listeners find your book?
LINDA: Well our book is available in all outlets. I’d like to encourage supporting your local bookstore – number one. But it also can be ordered online with the various Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, and the other kinds of online places. It can also directly be ordered from the publisher which is New World Library. It’s available through all the normal outlets.
But may I just plug something else because you might not be aware of it. And since you’re working – you have a lot of people online. I’m also the originator of a podcast series called The Mindfulness Based Teacher Project and it’s a podcast to support teachers of mindfulness in health care and education wherever they’re working.
But many, many people who don’t teach mindfulness have told me that they’ve really, really appreciated the approach and the things that I talk about. I usually begin with a story and then I expand on it – about no longer than 15 minutes. And it’s kind of my legacy project, and my heart project, is freely available online – across the board. And it’s www.mindfulness-based-teacher-project.org/.
KIM: That is awesome. And again listeners there will be a link to – links, I should say, to everything that we’ve talked about, including in this book and the Institute for Mindfulness Based Approaches as well as the podcast in the show notes, which again you can find at thekimsutton.com/pp120.
Linda I want to thank you so much for being here today. I would love to ask you before we close out would you mind sharing where listeners can find you online and maybe a closing comment for listeners to think about before we go into the three minute pause.
LINDA: Well you can find the Institute online at www.instituteformindfulness.org. A closing comment: I’m sitting in my room now looking out the window at the trees waving in the breeze. It’s spring here and it’s unbelievably life – the birds, the greenness of the trees, which maybe just a few weeks ago, we’re still grey. The sounds of spring, the smells of spring – I just experience it at the moment, as I feel totally grateful that I can be here, at the same time, there are things going on in my life that are requesting my attention – then there are some challenges, but just that one moment of looking out the window and seeing the trees dancing in the wind – it’s a gift. And so I hope that all your listeners and you yourself, that you can take those moments that life is asking us to share with it and with one another. And I hope that that supports you all in your journeys.
Hey there this is Kim, the host of the Positive Productivity podcast.
I just want to take a quick moment to thank you for listening to this episode.
If you enjoyed it and were inspired I would love to hear your feedback. Please take a moment or two and visit the podcast on iTunes stitcher, Iheart radio, or on my website at thekimsutton.com to leave your reading or review. I’d also like to invite you to join the Positive Productivity book club and to find out more about my coaching packages by visiting kimsutton.com. Until the next episode, I hope you have a positive and productive day.