Free to find out what works for you in meditation

We can be ferocious in the way we try to get things right and most of us bring this tendency into meditation, attempting to suppress feelings of vulnerability and to push forward to meet our own or others’ rigid expectations. But there is no one correct way to be human or to meditate — life and meditation are much more interesting than that.

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What matters to us

Emotion-focused mindfulness therapy encourages us to explore navigating meditation and life oriented to our values and what works. Carl Rogers taught that if we respond to people with empathy, prizing, and genuineness, people have deep capacities for orienting to their own growth and direction in life. People benefit from a sense of safety and encouragement that enables them to turn inward to the implicit feel of their embodied experiencing and to make sense of what they encounter there, integrating feeling, reflection and sensory experiencing. We are then better able to sort out what we really feel about situations and what really matters to us in a way that feels empowering and we can carry into the rest of our life.

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Article on EFMT

The Sinai Health System’s newsletter, This Week at Sinai Health, shared an article today on my work developing emotion-focused mindfulness therapy on the hospital website:

Mount Sinai social worker develops innovative approach to using mindfulness in therapy
Corporate Communications, Sinai Health System, March 20, 2019

Bill Gayner, a social worker who works as a mental health clinician in Mount Sinai Hospital’s Psychiatry Department, has developed a unique approach to mindfulness-based therapy. It’s called emotion-focused mindfulness therapy (EFMT) and in February, Bill published his first paper about it in the journal Person-Centred and Experiential Psychotherapies


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The heart of practice

new leaf and sun ray

When the Buddha sat down in the meditation that led to his awakening, he was plagued by self-doubt. The Buddhist scriptures portray this mythologically as Mara, the evil one, sending his daughters and an army of demons to disrupt the Buddha’s meditation with grasping, hesitation and fear. Who do you think you are to try to awaken?

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Experiential Focusing

The bloom of the present moment

We tend to spend a lot of time either preoccupied with thinking to the exclusion of feelings or getting too immersed in and buffeted and driven by difficult emotions and thoughts. Mindful experiencing provides an alternative, coming alive in a spacious, grounded way to the implicit, embodied feel of what is happening, what Jon Kabat-Zinn has referred to as “the bloom of the present moment.” This creates optimal conditions for reflecting on and making sense of feelings in order to better navigate and appreciate our lives, but, as I described in my paper (Gayner, 2019), mainstream clinical mindfulness does not specify or encourage this. In contrast, emotion-focused mindfulness therapy makes use of these optimal conditions to facilitate experiential and emotional processing. The heart of this is experiential focusing, developed by Eugene Gendlin in collaboration with Carl Rogers in the mid-twentieth century and subsequently integrated into emotion-focused therapy. Experiential focusing is a way of deepening our experiencing by coming alive to and making sense of implicit feelings and carrying forward their empowering implications into the rest of our life.

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How we learned to suppress feelings

Softening and opening with kindness and gentle curiosity towards our inner vulnerabilities and pain is unfamiliar territory for many of us, because we didn’t learn how to do this growing up. Many of us had parents who didn’t know how to calm themselves down, let alone how to calm us down. Our parents may not have known how to identify their own emotions, let alone help us identify, express and sort through our feelings in productive ways. Just this, let alone add emotional, physical or sexual abuse or neglect at home or elsewhere, and, rather than learning to identify and make sense of their feelings, kids learn to suppress them by tightening up their muscles, holding their breath and coming up into their heads.

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Integrating Self-Compassion into Your Mindfulness Practice

Photo by Bill Gayner

If you find yourself struggling or beating yourself up in meditation, it can be helpful to remember to cultivate self-compassion. In my post, Emotion-Focused Mindfulness Meditation, I described how Kristin Neff highlights three factors in cultivating self-compassion: trying to be kind to yourself; remembering our common humanity (that whatever you are struggling with, many other people struggle with it as well); and cultivating mindfulness of your body, feelings and thoughts.

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Thoughtful Response to My Paper

I appreciate the warm way Bob Maunder, MD FRCPC, recently welcomed my paper. As Head of Psychiatry Research, Sinai Health System, Bob regularly sends out papers published by staff in our department to the rest of the department, accompanied by a short, thoughtful introduction. Bob is also Chair in Health and Behaviour and Deputy Psychiatrist-in-Chief, Sinai Health System, and Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto. 

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Emotion-Focused Mindfulness Meditation

Photo by Bill Gayner

This style of meditation emphasizes cultivating a gentle, participatory curiosity toward all the processes that weave consciousness and deepen experiencing, including bodily sensations and other senses, feelings, thinking, imagery, and needs. You are welcome to plan, remember and reflect on your experience.

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My Paper on EFMT Published

My paper, the first on emotion-focused mindfulness therapy, has been published by Person-Centred and Experiential Psychotherapies:

Gayner, B. (2019). Emotion-focused mindfulness therapy. Person-Centred and Experiential Psychotherapies, Vol. 18, Issue 1, pages 98-120.

The first fifty people can download it from the journal’s website for free by clicking here.

The journal allows me, as the author, to post a preprint on my website that you can download, which includes all the edits but without the journal’s formatting. Click on the buttons at the bottom of the page to download that version.

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