In a playful and joyful way, Diane Gehart helps us appreciate the value of mindfulness practice. She blends ancient Buddhist traditions with positive psychology research in her latest book, Mindfulness for Chocolate Lovers, to help us develop practices to stress less and savor more each day. And you don't even have to eat the chocolate. This is appreciative embodying in a tasteful, olfactory way!
Table of Contents
- Early Influences
- A Blend of Spirituality and Science
- Eating Meditation to Develop Mindfulness
- Four Ways to Develop Appreciative Embodying
- Connect with Diane
- Become a Patron of Positivity Strategist Podcast
Both Diane's parents were immigrants to the USA. Both came from humble, rural, European backgrounds. Her Dad grew up outside Vienna in Austria and her Mom from Greece between Argos and Sparta. As she reflects on her upbringing and how her parents influenced her, it's their deep sense of community that she appreciates most. Even though her parents now live in California, their belief in community and how we need each other and need to work together has never changed. They imparted to her the importance of integrity and honesty and some very old world values.
Diane: "I think that's part of where some of my journey has been in trying to make sense of life and the suffering we have in this life and what happiness really is and how we find it. I think even though those are background influences in my life, the older I get, the more I appreciate how some of that has trickled down through the generations.
A Blend of Spirituality and Science
The book, Mindfulness for Chocolate Lovers is a lovely blend of spirituality and science and everyday common events that we all face – both challenges and joys. From my place of curiosity, I invite Diane to talk about high points during her process and what she values most about what she's created.
Diane: "I really wanted to make it a fun introduction, not just to the practice of mindfulness meditation because that's really hard for most people to integrate into their lives, but to invite people to explore ideas behind the Buddhist psychology that informs mindfulness. It has so many overlaps with our contemporary Western positive psychology. And there's so much we know about happiness that the ancients knew that contemporary science knows, but the average person I meet on the street doesn't know.
And so I really wanted to create something that was accessible to everyone to better understand how to more effectively pursue happiness. Because I think a lot of us get off on the wrong track."
Seeking pleasure is only one dimension of happiness, and ongoing pleasure is not enduring.
Eating Meditation to Develop Mindfulness
Teaching meditation for over 20 years, Diane will often first introduce a eating meditation to beginners because it's concrete; and because it's concrete many people understand the concept more easily than just watching their breath; watching their breath is a more difficult thing for some people to connect with.
Diane: "I like using wrapped chocolate because it adds one more sense to it [eating meditation]. You begin by very mindfully observing, smelling, feeling it. With the rapper on, you slowly unwrap it and mindfully listen to the sound of the wrapper opening, which is always wonderful when you do it in a group setting because it often sounds like a crackling fire or a waterfall. Then smelling it; feeling into the texture; putting it up to your lips; not eating it; just watching what goes through your mind without judging it; and then trying to eat it without judging it or comparing it to what you've had before."
There are three levels of chocolate mediation, each one building on the other and requiring the meditator to suspend judgment for just a few moments to experience what each is without overlaying their own story on top of it.
By suspending automatic judgements and familiar storytelling about the value of something is to open up space to see things a little bit differently. It's a very powerful exercise.
Four Ways to Develop Appreciative Embodying
With my heightened sensibility over these last 3 months as I have inquired into appreciative embodying, I resonate with many ideas in Mindfulness for Chocolate Lovers. References to Buddhist teachings and positive psychology are uplifting to me. As a practitioner and teacher of the transformational change methodology, Appreciative Inquiry, so many of the principles and practices have meaning and relevance in our world today as we try to make sense of the complexities in our relationships in personal and global contexts.
Four concepts spoke to me especially, and I invite you to listen to the podcast conversation to appreciate the fuller value of these concepts and practices:
- Crazy Wisdom
- Embracing Wholeness
- Fierce Compassion
- Befriending Problems, Befriending Life
1. Crazy Wisdom
In the world of Buddhist psychology, crazy wisdom is a kind of a counterpart to the seriousness of mindfulness. Crazy wisdom is a Buddhist tradition. It also exists in the West in various forms, for example where we play with opposites to reveal various life truths. We juxtapose situations or ideas in order to highlight differences or absurdities.
Crazy wisdom is about humor; it's about laughing. It is important to also notice that not all humor is funny or helpful. Research on humor shows that humor where you're putting other people down or even yourself down is not as healthy or helpful in terms of promoting our happiness.
Humor that is affiliative brings people together. It helps to lighten up and be able to laugh at some of the challenges we have in life or just how strange life is, and some of some of our cultural habits are.
Crazy wisdom brings in playfulness which can take us to a very different state from our usual way of being and engaging, particularly in the workplace. It can give us a perspective that helps to cultivate the healthy mindset of non-attachment – not being attached to outcomes.
2. Embracing our Wholeness
My curiosity invites Diane talk about helping people honor their wholeness. Not only the wholeness within themselves, but the wholeness within our communities.
How does appreciating and cultivating our sensibility around wholeness facilitate our deeper connection and acceptance of what is?
Diane brings attention to our Western propensity to strive for happiness. She explains "the typical way many of us in the West in the 21st century approach happiness is we're trying to maximize all of our happy, pleasurable experiences and minimize anything negative. And it's just not possible."
We need to be able to embrace both the good and the bad, both the challenges and the joys, both the people that you can't stand and the people that you love. It's this perspective that she sees as embracing wholeness and being able to engage in the fullness of life skillfully. That is what leads to happiness.
Diane: "Being able to develop what the Buddhist would call equanimity, being able to move with the ups and downs of life gracefully that's a much more sustainable model for happiness than I'm going to maximize everything good in my life and minimize anything bad in my life. You just don't have that much control over life. And so being able to accept yourself both your strengths and your weaknesses. Any strength we see in ourselves in one context, it always is a weakness in another context. Learning to label things less rigidly as all good or all bad is so important for equanimity.
3. Fierce Compassion
A third concept that I really valued in the book was how Diane addresses compassion, particularly the notion of fierce compassion.
How can fierce compassion help in nurturing our relationships, help expand our sense of self-love, self-compassion, and compassion for others? How does that help us connect with strangers or with family members who might be challenging, or with difficult workmates?
Diane explains the Dalai Lama always says, I didn't learn compassion from my fellow Tibetans. It is easy to feel compassion for those who are like us. We learn compassion when we are challenged to stretch and grow and find a place in our hearts to have compassion for those we struggle with. We may want to judge them harshly but they are the ones who can actually teach us what it means to be compassionate. The concept of fierce compassion is how we keep our heart open even when it's really, really difficult.
If we can accept the principle that we all do the best we can with the information we have in that moment and we're all trying to pursue some form of good, here a some questions that we might practice to help develop fierce compassion:
- What is the good that the other side side has that I'm frustrated with?
- What is the good that this family member is aspiring to?
- How can I try to understand that perspective better?
- Is there anything I can do to help that person achieve that goal?
Fierce compassion is about pausing, being willing to see the humanity in others and seeking to understand how they're constructing good in their world.
How might we more effectively humanize those we find challenging and develop greater skills to relate in more loving ways to cultivate fierce compassion?
4. Befriending Problems, Befriending Life
Befriending problems, befriending Life is a concept with which I resonate strongly, because it's a practice that invites us to look at life in a different way – taking on new thoughts, feelings, actions to find out how we might create new approaches to relate to the wholeness of life. It takes reflection, will and action to make shifts to help us develop the qualities and skills so that we can live in a more gentle and loving way with ourselves and with others.
Befriending life is a powerful reframe on seeing life as a problem to be solved. Much of what this book teaches is enfolded in the wisdom of befriending life, despite its vicissitudes. There are worksheets that provide a reflective process to identify challenges, problems or area of negativity and then invite you to reframe those into positive opportunities.
Circling back to appreciative embodying, befriending life brings all the domains of life together – our physical domains, our emotional, our spiritual, our cognitive, relational, occupational, and others. It seems such an effective way to help people ask:
"What is it that I want to cultivate in myself and how can I develop my mindfulness practice around any of the domains in life that trouble me?"