Contemplating Impermanence: Death, Dreams and Forgetfulness

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Lawrence J. Ladden and Jale Cilasun

When: Sundays: 23 February 2020, 29 March, 3 May,  31 May, 28 June, 26 July, 30 August, 27 September, 25 October, 22 November, 13 December, 31 January 2021 

Time:   10:00 am – 4:30 pm

Where:    Bloomsbury Psychotherapy Practice, Hamilton House, Fourth Floor, Mabledon Place, London WC1H9BD

Tuition:  £1200; attendance by application and interview; please apply by 7 January 2020 to Lawrence at lawrence.ladden@gmail.com ; the group will be limited to ten members.

Description: Death, dreams, and forgetfulness each express the truth of impermanence. Our mindfulness practice shows that the present moment is fleeting, and that something new is always emerging. Sadly our intention to be present is easily forgotten and we drift in thought and into emotional reaction. Dream-like preoccupations cloud our attention, and we easily forget the brevity of life.  This year-long program will use mindfulness and group process to explore our relationship to impermanence. The course will have three integrated aspects:

PD Circus Sideshow (Parade de cirque),1887–88 Georges Seurat 

First, we will practice mindfulness in silence and as a group with speech – Contemplative Group Dynamics. As with individual practice the group notes sensations, feelings and thoughts. A common observation about Contemplative Group Dynamics is that it “makes it easier to stay present.” The contemplative group is a receptacle for the impersonal and existential aspects of our experiencing.  This occurs through a close inquiry, using silence and speech/conversation, into the identity-less nature of the self and of the group. Thereby the themes of dreaming and dying  described below are given form with words, yet can be apprehended as never separate from the surrounding silences.

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Second, we will explore dreams as expressions of impermanence.  We can notice how our mind generates feelings and actions that feel real, only to see upon awakening their constructed nature. We will study selections from the lucid dreaming and dream yoga literature to bring awareness to the transitions between waking and dreaming, being mindful or mindless. During the meeting days we will take guidance from the Social Dreaming literature which uses dream material as expressions of social and cultural realities or constructions, rather than individual imagination alone. How do our dreams illuminate meditative culture and our collective ability to be wakeful? 

Third, we will explore exercises for physical tension, pain, fear, forgiveness, and the dying process. These exercises, drawn from the work of Steven Levine, Ken McLeod and Joan Halifax, will be complemented by study of contemporary and contemplative views on the nature of memory and self. The aim is to deepen the practitioner’s understanding of how these exercises function to cultivate presence and compassion and to strength one’s contemplative practice by experiencing how the transitions of waking, dreaming and dying are simply transforms of consciousness.

Pre-requisites include a regular mindfulness practice and a willingness to work with the varied exercises presented and to participate in developing the group as a contemplative context. Course days will involve brief talks, discussion, silent mindfulness practice, mindfulness practice with speech, the hosting of a dream matrix, and a review of each days activity. Morning and afternoon breaks with coffee, tea, snacks and fruit are included.

Participants will be encouraged to keep a journal of their year-long experience to include: life review, dream descriptions, and impressions of the meetings and study materials. For those who cannot attend every meeting an hour long Skype meeting will be arranged as a bridge to the next meeting.

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Learning Objectives:

  1. Identify how formal mindfulness practice enacts a first-hand relationship to   impermanence in relation to sensation, feeling, and thinking.
  2. Identify the role of mindfulness in cultivating acceptance toward human expressions of impermanence:  separation, illness, ageing and death.
  3. Describe the benefit of a group mindfulness practice using speech to mutually   recognise and contain emotion attendant to acknowledging life’s fragility.
  4. Identify and practice the difference between meeting experience with awareness versus avoidance.
  5. Define the difference between being mindful and identifying with one’s constructed mental activities (e.g., thoughts, dreams, fears).

References

Chandha, M.  (2019). Reconstructing memories, deconstructing the self. Mind & Language, 34 121-138

Ganeri, J. (2017). Attention not self. Oxford: Oxford U. Press.

Lawrence, W.G. (2005). Introduction to social dreaming: Transforming thinking.  London: Karnac

Levine, S. (1997).  A year to live: How to live this year as if was your last. New York: Bell Tower.

Mühlhoff, R. (2015). Affective resonance and social interaction. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 14 (4):1001-1019.

McLeod, K. (2001). Wake up to your life: Discovering the Buddhist path of attention.  SanFrancisco:Harper.

Thompson, E. (2015). Waking, dreaming, being: Self and consciousness in neuroscience, meditation, and philosophy. New York: Columbia University Press.

Conductors: 

Dr Jale Cilasun is a Psychiatrist with specialist training as a Medical Psychotherapist  and in Group Analysis who has been working in the NHS for 32 years, last 18 years as  Consultant Medical Psychotherapist. She has extensive experience of using the group as therapeutic medium for a wide range of psychological conditions. She has been working with contemplative group dynamics for the last eight years.

Dr Lawrence Ladden is a Health Psychologist and Clinical Psychologist with specialist training in group dynamics, practicing in the UK since 2013, and for years prior in Philadelphia with expertise in using mindfulness with patients with physical health conditions, such as cancer and chronic pain.  A mindfulness instructor for more than 30 years, he developed contemplative group dynamics which is an integration of mindfulness practice and group processes.