Impulsive people and meditation

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.
lostitude
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Impulsive people and meditation

Post by lostitude »

Hello,

In my practice as a dietitian who tries to use 'mindfulness' with patients with eating disorders, I have of course come across a number of people who dislike the idea and are completely averse to any form of relaxation/inward-looking technique. Typically they are the kind of people who are very talkative, fidgety, who can't even keep their eyes closed when they are not asleep. During a training session with a mindfulness teacher (who is also a psychologist), he explained to us dietitians that some personality types exclude the use of such techniques, and he mentioned (among others) the impulsive type and the depressive type.

So my question is: if an 'impulsive' person wanted to practice buddhist meditation, is there any advice that is usually given in Buddhist circles? More generally, is there any way, based on your experience, that I could still try to use 'mindfulness' with such patients?

Thanks in advance for your input.
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Ben
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Re: Impulsive people and meditation

Post by Ben »

mindfulness on its own is, in my humble opinion, a mistake.
Let's not forget the lesson of Anders Behring Breivik who used 'mindfulness practice' to still his nerves before setting off a bomb that killed eight people and shooting dead 69 people.
On its own mindfulness may just make your patients more mindfully overeat or undereat and make it much more difficult to undo unhealthy habits. That is why meditation practices within Buddhism are never divorced from other aspects of the Path that include the maintenance of moral conduct, generosity (inc. service), the development of concentration and wisdom (inc. the intellectual understanding of the Dhamma through study).

My advice to you is to refer your patients to a qualified Dhamma teacher. This I think will be far more beneficial than cobbling something together.
all the best,

Ben
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Dhammabodhi
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Re: Impulsive people and meditation

Post by Dhammabodhi »

:goodpost:
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lostitude
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Re: Impulsive people and meditation

Post by lostitude »

Thanks Ben, I agree that mindfulness for the sake of it may lead to anything.

In our practice, although we obviously do not talk about dhamma (although some related aspects can be touched upon by some psychologists and psychoanalysts, who describe life as a continuous pendulum between impulse/frustration/stress and efforts to reduce it), we do however use it for a purpose: that of identifying the emotions that cause the patient to eat. And it's very effective in patients who are open to trying it. Hence my question about those who can't stand still for more than 3 seconds. I am sure they must exist in buddhist circles too, I am sure you can find young monks who behave just like that, and I assume that such a personality doesn't mean they will never become good buddhist practitioners. So I wonder how it is dealt with from a traditional buddhist perspective.
My advice to you is to refer your patients to a qualified Dhamma teacher.
This is absolutely impossible in my country :) Besides I don't think it is necessary for the specific goal that my patients set for themselves. However even such an endeavour (getting acquainted with mindfulness to study one's emotions and their influence on one's behavior) might be a first step towards the dhamma, right?
lostitude
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Re: Impulsive people and meditation

Post by lostitude »

On a sidenote, there is at least one Buddhist abbot who proposes the same approach. Jan Chozen Bays, who wrote a book titled Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food.
There is zero dhamma in it, at least not in the religious/spiritual sense. It is directed at anyone regardless of their faith or lack thereof, and I am considering using some of her advice in my own dietetic practice.
paul
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Re: Impulsive people and meditation

Post by paul »

For the traditional Buddhist method, see section 4, Restlessness and Remorse:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... .html#rest" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
lostitude
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Re: Impulsive people and meditation

Post by lostitude »

paul wrote:For the traditional Buddhist method, see section 4, Restlessness and Remorse:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... .html#rest" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Thank you! I'm not sure what to make of it :thinking:
Pinetree
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Re: Impulsive people and meditation

Post by Pinetree »

You don't need to mix together mindfulness with relaxation.

For somebody with eating disorders, mindfulness of the eating is the obvious approach (you probably heard of the raisin exercise). And you don't necessarily need more than that.

And really the easiest exercise is to chew more times (while counting). Which is just indirectly mindfulness.
I am sure they must exist in buddhist circles too, I am sure you can find young monks who behave just like that, and I assume that such a personality doesn't mean they will never become good buddhist practitioners. So I wonder how it is dealt with from a traditional buddhist perspective.
I wouldn't take this approach, if I was you. Once in a monastery, I'm sure after few days, the original fidgetiness will change into something else.

One thing is that you need to discuss with your clients how much time and effort they are willing to invest. And the answer to this question is probably not compatible with the "traditional buddhist perspective".
Hence my question about those who can't stand still for more than 3 seconds.
An important question is if they have the desire to learn to stand still for more than 3 seconds.

Generally speaking:
- anything can be learned gradually, for example, if they can only do 3 seconds, then, that's the place to start and progress from there
- for impulsive people, you probably want to tell them to do something, instead of sitting and doing nothing
- you mentioned relaxation - there are more active approaches to relaxation, like Jacobson's progressive relaxation
- for "inward-looking", they can fill monitoring sheets, which can likely be designed to achieve any goals you wish to achieve. While filling in such a sheet, inward-looking cannot be avoided.
- another thing: I am sure, many of the most impulsive people have something that captures their focus (and to be on topic, for many of your patients, that something might be food, or smell - and not necessarily of food - maybe flowers or spices or essential oils)

And to close the circle, a very easy mindfulness exercise is to ask people after each meal to write down on average, how many times they chew each bite. And you can start the sheets with a single monitored item, and progress to more.
lostitude
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Re: Impulsive people and meditation

Post by lostitude »

Pinetree wrote:You don't need to mix together mindfulness with relaxation.
I don't. I was just saying that some patients are completely averse to this kind of practices, be it mindfulness or relaxation, anything involving apparently 'doing nothing' seems difficult to them.
For somebody with eating disorders, mindfulness of the eating is the obvious approach (you probably heard of the raisin exercise). And you don't necessarily need more than that.
But that's the thing... some of them can't even close their eyes on the raisin exercise, they say their eyelids won't stay shut, others start feeling nervous because it's going too slow and it gets on their nerves. What do you say to an aspiring buddhist monk who suffers from that? This was my question, basically.
I am sure they must exist in buddhist circles too, I am sure you can find young monks who behave just like that, and I assume that such a personality doesn't mean they will never become good buddhist practitioners. So I wonder how it is dealt with from a traditional buddhist perspective.
I wouldn't take this approach, if I was you. Once in a monastery, I'm sure after few days, the original fidgetiness will change into something else.
I think you misread me, because your answer seems a bit off the mark. Or maybe I just didn't understand it.
One thing is that you need to discuss with your clients how much time and effort they are willing to invest. And the answer to this question is probably not compatible with the "traditional buddhist perspective".
Maybe, but I'd still be interested to know how this issue is dealt with in traditional buddhism. Paul did post a link earlier, but after reading it I have to say I still don't have a clear picture of how it's tackled in practice.
Generally speaking:
- anything can be learned gradually, for example, if they can only do 3 seconds, then, that's the place to start and progress from there
- for impulsive people, you probably want to tell them to do something, instead of sitting and doing nothing
- you mentioned relaxation - there are more active approaches to relaxation, like Jacobson's progressive relaxation
- for "inward-looking", they can fill monitoring sheets, which can likely be designed to achieve any goals you wish to achieve. While filling in such a sheet, inward-looking cannot be avoided.
- another thing: I am sure, many of the most impulsive people have something that captures their focus (and to be on topic, for many of your patients, that something might be food, or smell - and not necessarily of food - maybe flowers or spices or essential oils)
Nice tips!

Thanks for answering.
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retrofuturist
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Re: Impulsive people and meditation

Post by retrofuturist »

Greetings lostitude,

Given the task at hand, something closer to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy techniques may be more appropriate professionally.

Metta,
Paul. :)
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paul
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Re: Impulsive people and meditation

Post by paul »

The difference between your situation and a Buddhist monastery in Thailand is you lack the disciplinary power over the clients and the social and cultural structure which bear on the monk. Restlessness and worry is one of five hindrances to meditation which have to be overcome, even if temporarily during periods of meditation. All monks have to sit still for meditation and that is a forceful method (suppression, one of five standard methods) of overcoming the hindrance of restlessness, which is embedded in the age-old monastery system. The hindrances can and are reduced and eliminated. I suggest you work on getting the clients to practise physical stillness for lengthening periods of time, show them a video of a Buddhist monk sitting in meditation and then get them to imitate that, this will get them over the thought they are doing nothing. But the limitation in the amount of discipline you can apply and the lack of a structure oriented to the task are drawbacks compared with the monastery system.
There are monasteries in Thailand which successfully deal with westerners suffering from more serious addictions by submitting them to the monastery discipline and introducing them to the Buddhist view.
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Mkoll
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Re: Impulsive people and meditation

Post by Mkoll »

Ben wrote:mindfulness on its own is, in my humble opinion, a mistake.
Paul Davy wrote:Given the task at hand, something closer to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy techniques may be more appropriate professionally.)
:goodpost:
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Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
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lostitude
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Re: Impulsive people and meditation

Post by lostitude »

Paul Davy wrote:Greetings lostitude,

Given the task at hand, something closer to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy techniques may be more appropriate professionally.

Metta,
Paul. :)
But this kind of therapy precisely uses mindfulness, at least in 3rd wave CBT.
For example one of the basic principles in Acceptation and Commitment Therapy is 'cognitive defusion' (understanding that 'I am not my thoughts, and my thoughts are not me', e.g. instead of 'I crave chocolate' =>'there is an idea of craving passing through this mind that I'm observing'). And to achieve that, you need mindfulness. ACT and minfdulness are two sides of the same coin.

Thanks Paul for your explanations. It was probably very naive of me but I was expecting some sort of ancient special technique to overcome this problem, other than sheer coercion...

So in a nutshell, you can't make someone practice mindfulness if they are not receptive to it. I was secretly hoping the contrary, probably because mindfulness has been so helpful on a personal level, but I'm losing sight of the fact that we are all different.
Pinetree
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Re: Impulsive people and meditation

Post by Pinetree »

But that's the thing... some of them can't even close their eyes on the raisin exercise, they say their eyelids won't stay shut, others start feeling nervous because it's going too slow and it gets on their nerves.
No need to close the eyes.

The training doesn't need to happen in unnatural circumstances.

There are meditation traditions which emphasise keeping the eyes open.
What do you say to an aspiring buddhist monk who suffers from that? This was my question, basically.
You might say: "Just meditate" or "Keep practicing", or "Do walking meditation".

Impulsiveness is not a special hindrance to meditation, just a temporary setback or slow down. The issue of the "getting on their nerves" is irrelevant and doesn't need to be addressed directly, it will go away by itself.
I think you misread me, because your answer seems a bit off the mark. Or maybe I just didn't understand it.
My answer was that the manner in which a traditional buddhist setting such as a monastery interacts with impulsiveness is probably not accessible to you to use with your patients.
Maybe, but I'd still be interested to know how this issue is dealt with in traditional buddhism. Paul did post a link earlier, but after reading it I have to say I still don't have a clear picture of how it's tackled in practice.
There is no need to "do" anything about it. The "impulsiveness" is a reinforced behavior. Remove the reinforcements and it will go away.

But of course, the meditation training can be adjusted to the individual to tackle the issue directly. Except that your question. Sometimes people ask for personal advice on similar topics, and answer is given on the forum on a case to case basis.

On the other hand, all aspects of the Buddhist practice help, like sila, reading the suttas, meditation.

If I was to give a general answer, just choose a meditation object, and keep bringing the mind back to the object each time the mind wanders away. By focusing the mind on anything, it will become more disciplined, there is no doubt about it.

The teaching of meditation is quite flexible and can be individually tailored.

If you cannot close eyes, open them, if you cannot sit, lie down or walk, if you cannot walk, jump and meditate on the jumping. Or to go back to your topic, eating 1000 raisins one by one, doesn't matter how you do it or if you eat all 1000 in the same day or a single raisin per day, over 3 years, is bound to reduce impulsiveness at least a little bit.

------

My point is that in a "traditional buddhist setting", such as a monastery, there are not many opportunities to cultivate impulsiveness. Few choices of activity are: sit, walk or lie down, listen to dhamma talks, sweep or wash your robe. Do either for few months and the impulsiveness goes away. Oh, and eat less (only before noon).

Add to that the social pressure of the environment. Most people who can't sit still and decide to go to a meditation retreat, and see few dozens people around them, all of them sitting in meditation , will find the power to sit still.

Oh, and if a young Buddhist monk is going to be jumping a lot, the local people might decide to stop feeding him for few days and you'd be surprised how effective that can reduce impulses.
lostitude
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Re: Impulsive people and meditation

Post by lostitude »

Pinetree wrote:
But that's the thing... some of them can't even close their eyes on the raisin exercise, they say their eyelids won't stay shut, others start feeling nervous because it's going too slow and it gets on their nerves.
No need to close the eyes.
The idea behind the raisin exercise (at least the version we were taught and which we use) is to let the patients analyse the raisin without knowing what it is, in order for them to discover this unidentified food item with their five senses (with sight coming last), to stimulate mindfulness without preconceived idea about what it might be. Hence the need to close their eyes, otherwise they might just say 'oh, raisin, I know that, it tastes like this and smells like that' etc. based on their ideas of what raisins are supposed to be like, as opposed to their experience in the present moment. We haven't been trained to use other versions and I do not know them.
My point is that in a "traditional buddhist setting", such as a monastery, there are not many opportunities to cultivate impulsiveness. Few choices of activity are: sit, walk or lie down, listen to dhamma talks, sweep or wash your robe. Do either for few months and the impulsiveness goes away. Oh, and eat less (only before noon).
I understand your point now. Thanks for your explanations!
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