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Mindfulness meditation offers way to slow down life

Susan Sweetwater holds her cat, Henry, while relaxing at her Bremerton home. She’s learned to combat pain with mindfulness meditation.  - Leslie Kelly
Susan Sweetwater holds her cat, Henry, while relaxing at her Bremerton home. She’s learned to combat pain with mindfulness meditation.
— image credit: Leslie Kelly

Nobody has to tell Susan Sweetwater that life is way too busy. She sees that first-hand every day. But she has a method to help with all the madness.

It’s called mindfulness meditation.

“It’s not just about sitting down on a cushion and stopping your thoughts,” said Sweetwater. “It’s about changing the way you deal with thoughts.”

Sweetwater is a licensed social work associate with a private clinical practice in Silverdale. She counsels individuals in psychotherapy, art therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction from an office in Old Town.

And she also offers mindfulness meditation work in the evenings at the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 700 Callahan Dr., in Bremerton.

The class is about learning to practice mindfulness meditation skills to help bring calm and clarity to the pressures of daily life, Sweetwater said.

And, she said, anyone can do it.

“I hear all the time, ‘Oh, I can’t to this,’” Sweetwater said, referring to meditation. “People think that meditation means stopping thoughts — that you have to not have any thoughts while meditating. But that’s not really right.

“What mindfulness meditation means is being with the thoughts you have, not resisting them, but not allowing the thought to interrupt your meditation work.”

When she’s teaching beginners, she likes to tell them that meditation is a two-winged bird. One wing is the concentration piece.

“It’s a skill that has to be developed,” she said. “You select something and focus on it.”

The other wing is the quality of your attention, or mindfulness.

“It’s not about beating yourself up about the thoughts that flow into your head,” she said. “It’s about saying to yourself ,“Oh, I’m thinking this or that.’ And then just letting that thought go and coming back to your concentration work.”

Sweetwater has been a counselor for more than 12 years. She’s been offering the mindfulness meditation work for the past two and a half years.

She came across meditation years ago when she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and was experiencing a great deal of pain. She sought out meditation as a way to cope with her pain.

“I’d tried it a long time before that on my own,” she said. “But it’s really hard to do on your own. So I took a class from Shannon McKee on Bainbridge Island. And just that exposure to that class made a big difference in my ability to deal with my pain.”

Sweetwater decided she wanted to share that with others and became a meditation instructor herself. Now, with the work in mindfulness meditation, she helps others who are experiencing pain, or are having difficulties with stress and slowing down their lives.

“It’s naive to think that we won’t have thoughts,” she said. “That’s just a normal part of how our brains work. But what’s important is that we can train ourselves to slow down the thoughts or control our stress through being mindful of how we react to the thoughts we have.”

The world and each of us are way too critical of ourselves, Sweetwater said. But by being in tune with that, we can begin to release the critical thoughts and actually learn to not be so critical of ourselves, she said. That’s part of the work that helps to create a less stressful life, she added.

As for helping with pain, once an individual learns to identify where in their body they feel pain, they will realize that they are holding that area tight or tense and actually adding to the pain. By consciously knowing that, the individual can breathe slowly and release the tension, hence reducing the pain, Sweetwater said.

For beginners, it usually takes six weeks to learn the skills needed to make a difference. The course includes mindfulness of breathing, body, thoughts, emotions and learning loving kindness.

“And with each session, there are exercises that students can practice at home,” she said. “It differs from person to person, but practicing a half-hour a day helps.”

The real work comes in being able to apply the mindful meditation in stressful situations.

“We need something to slow us down,” she said. “We need something to calm us. It’s just a matter of learning the skills and then taking the time to be good to ourselves and applying them at times of stress.”

Sweetwater said meditation can seem mysterious.

“But it’s simple,” she said. “It may not be easy because of how we move in the world. But it is attainable with the right amount of work.”

Those who come to her for help are people from all walks of life.

“Sometimes, they are spouses that are being dragged along to class,” she said. “But it’s so amazing to see the changes in people from week-to-week. For them to experience the changes in themselves, to see the benefits and enjoy the results, it’s very rewarding.”

Meditation is being used to help with many health problems including high blood pressure, diabetes, and weight loss. Sweetwater said it’s also used by the military to help with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a preventative option and as a treatment following the diagnosis.

“Meditation helps with improved focus and concentration, can enhanced immune function and can increase compassion for self and others,” she said.

The next session begins Oct. 10 for six weeks and meets each Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at 700 Callahan Dr. in Bremerton. Cost is $150. To enroll or to find out more, call 360-616-1491, or email sasweetwater@gmail.com. Her office is located at 8987 McConnell Ave. NW, Silverdale.

 

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