Syllabus | Mindfulness Meditation

Spring, 2021

Mindfulness Meditation Series — Syllabus for Spring 2021

Location: CU Denver|Anschutz Center for Faculty Development & Advancement, via Zoom

Schedule: 6 meetings, April 1, 8, 15, 29 & May 6, 13, each of those Thursdays 4:00-5:15pm

Instructor: Jeff Franklin, PhD, Professor of English, certified by the Engaged Mindfulness Institute’s 300-hour training as a mindfulness instructor, Jeff.Franklin@ucdenver.edu

Purpose of this Workshop

The purpose is to give you the opportunity to learn how to do several types of mindfulness practice so you can decide whether or not you want to do it on your own outside the workshop. 

This is a practical, hands-on, how-to introductory workshop. That said, half of the time we spend in this workshop will be sitting quietly together. Sitting mindfully—being gently and non-judgmentally present with ourselves—can be some of the hardest and most rewarding work we do in life, though that’s up to each of us as individuals. It also is a form of self-care, a way of cultivating our well-being. We will learn how to do that mostly by practicing together—that’s why it’s called mindfulness “practice.”

Learning Objectives

The following draft learning objectives are my initial “deal” with you: I promise to work in collaboration with you to offer you opportunities to learn these skills. This course will show you how to:

  • Work with your breathing to assist you in self-regulating your body, emotions, and thoughts.

  • Sit in a posture that is conducive to seated mindfulness practice.

  • Practice guided mindful sitting that uses short verbal prompts as a method for focusing concentration on the body and the breath.

  • Practice guided mindful sitting while observing your own body, emotions, and thoughts. 

  • Practice guided mindful sitting focused on cultivating kindness and compassion for one’s self and for others.

  • Talk as a group, or in subgroups, about what you experienced in doing the above practices.

By “guided” I mean led by me giving suggestions while we practice together and, then, if you choose, self-guided by you outside of this workshop. I will give you the basic instructions for leading yourself.

If time allows, we also will talk about how to practice mindfulness while walking, which can be useful.

What is Mindfulness and Why Practice It?

Mindfulness, as defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, is “paying attention. . .on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Mindfulness practice, as defined by my friend, Wade Iverson, who has been teaching mindfulness in prisons for years, is “the intentional, formal practice of sitting quietly and bringing awareness to this moment, often focusing upon the breath.” Mindfulness is an innate human capability—we all can do it—but it also needs to be learned and regularly practiced if we want to get the benefits that it has to offer. 

Why would anyone want to spend time practicing this? The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, founded in 1979 by Dr. Kabat-Zinn, is now taught in clinics and hospitals across the U.S. and internationally. Why? Because it has been shown in randomized double-blind scientific studies to reduce suffering from conditions including anxiety disorders, depression, chronic pain, drug dependency, PTSD, eating disorders, etc. More recent research suggests that mindfulness practice has the potential to increase our neurological capacity and tendency for “positive emotions,” such as happiness and peace of mind, as well as for greater resilience, “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress.” Mindfulness is widely recognized as a powerful process for building self-acceptance, emotional self-regulation, and resilience. Plus, for many people, it feels good. 

But don’t just take my word for it. I recommend that, as introductory preparation for this workshop, you view these two very short videos: “Why Mindfulness is a Superpower: An Animation” and “Shauna Shapiro: Mindfulness Meditation and the Brain.”

Potential Benefits of Mindfulness Practice

These, in my opinion, are among the potential benefits of practicing mindfulness. The fact that many people have experienced these benefits does not guarantee that everyone will—no guarantees, that’s up to you.

  • More friendliness and kindness toward yourself

  • Lower anxiety, worry, and tension

  • Less reactive self-management of chronic pain and illness

  • Improved impulse control and emotional self-regulation

  • Being less judgmental, more self-accepting and accepting of others

  • Fewer conflict-based interactions and unhappy relationships with others

  • Improved resilience, the ability to bounce back from failures and defeats

  • More fully living life in ease, peacefulness, and gratitude.

I have directly experienced some of these benefits of mindfulness practice in my own life, and I continue to practice sitting mindfully 5-7 times a week as a means of making my life and the lives of those around me better.

After all, “who wouldn’t want to worry less, be closer to happiness, and have a greater capacity for staying healthy?”, as Donald McCown and his coauthors put it in their book Teaching Mindfulness: A Practical Guide for Clinicians and Educators, one of the textbooks used in the training I took.

Weekly Overview

Week #1: Introduction to Mindfulness and Mindfulness of Breathing

Week #2: Mindfulness of Body and Breath

Week #3: Mindfulness of Emotions

Week #4: Mindfulness of Thoughts

Week #5: Non-Judgment and Mindfulness-Awareness Practice

Week #6: Mindful Compassion and Loving-Kindness Practice

The Instructor’s Starting Assumptions

  • I’m not here to convince you to believe anything. This workshop is not about religion. I encourage you to maintain your religious faith or your choice not to be religious. This workshop is about learning a secular mindfulness practice, which is not contrary to any religion.

  • Any and all people are welcome to this workshop, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, or any other form of diversity. I welcome any feedback on how I might be more sensitive to and supportive of diversity and inclusion.

  • I assume that we all possess certain innate human potentials, on the one hand, for suffering and, on the other hand, for love, compassion, self-healing, resilience, wellbeing, and joy in life. I believe that it is to no small degree up to us to decide which of these potentials we cultivate.

  • I do not guarantee you any specific outcome either from this workshop or from mindfulness practice. That’s up to you.

  • Mindfulness practice is just that: a practice to develop a skillset for living life more fully. The most important practice is not on the meditation cushion but rather in day-to-day interactions with yourself and others. 

  • Reaping benefits from mindfulness practice requires sustained time and effort. It’s called “practice,” as in learning a musical instrument or a martial art. Daily practice over an extended time works best. You get out what you put in.

  • Mindfulness is not a “new-age hippy-dippy California thing.” It’s supported by decades of psychological and neurobiological scientific research, not to mention the precedent in the Satipatthana Sutta, recorded in the first century BCE, five centuries after the Buddha taught what in the 20th century would come to be called “mindfulness” or “insight meditation.”

  • This workshop is not a space for processing deeply personal emotional material that would be appropriate in a clinical setting. I am not a therapist or counselor. The sharing in our meetings will focus on everyone’s experiences while practicing mindfulness. If you feel that you would benefit from psychological counseling, please contact the CU Denver Counseling Center.

  • Mindfulness practice has been shown to be a valuable asset for trauma survivors. However, sustained focus on internal experience, or focus on being present in the body, can be triggering for some. Keep in mind that at every moment in this practice you have the choice to take self-protective action, self-regulate, or discontinue the practice if you feel rising traumatic stress. 

  • I ask that we share a safe, respectful, kind, and compassionate space in this workshop. Please join me in creating and sustaining that space collaboratively.

Assignments & Homework

This workshop is not an academic course; it is an experiential, practice-based workshop. My friend Dr. Bethann Bierer in the Psychology Department teaches an excellent course for CU Denver students called “Psychology of Mindfulness” that covers the history, theory, and science of mindfulness. That’s not what this workshop is. 

There is no assigned reading for this workshop, though throughout I will be recommending readings and websites as resources for you, beginning with any of these:

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Falling Awake: How to Practice Mindfulness in Everyday Life, or his Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness (read about Kabat-Zinn’s books at this website)

Joseph Goldstein, Insight Meditation: The Practice of Freedom

Tara Brach, Mindfulness Meditation: Nine Guided Practices to Awaken Presence and Open Your Heart

Rick Hanson, Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness

Pema Chodron, How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind, an audio book from a Buddhist perspective, but Pema’s always practical and not proselytizing.

I will offer you a “homework” assignment each week: a mindful exercise or practice to do each day until our next meeting. Each week, I will introduce an exercise, then we will do it together, and that will be the homework for the coming week—simple! 

I’ve structured the course such that the assigned practices build progressively, moving from basic breathing exercises to short guided meditations to what is considered (in 21st-century North America) to be standard, seated mindfulness-awareness practice. The duration of the practices will increase from 5 to 10 to 14 minutes per day by the sixth week. My hope is that this approach supports you in building confidence and capacity from week to week. You don’t have to worry about memorizing the assigned practices—I will give you a handout each week that summarizes the practice for the coming week. 

Recommendations for Getting the Most Out of This Workshop

  • Consider our meetings as gifts that you are giving to yourself, opportunities to release worries and breathe easy. Don’t worry about “getting something” so much as just experiencing something self-nurturing, what I describe as a benevolent space of non-judgmental awareness.

  • Do the mindfulness practice homework every day for the week, or five times a week, or whatever works for you, but regularly is better for cultivating a practice. Consider planning a time and place to do this, perhaps putting “mindfulness practice” on your calendar each day and preparing a space that is comfortable, quiet, and distraction-free, especially free of your own habitual distractions. If you don’t plan and schedule it, it is easy to forget, and you may miss out on the experience that is the whole point of taking this workshop.

  • Come to our meetings open to doing two things: i) share with others what you experienced while doing (or not doing) the assigned practice homework, or the in-class mindfulness practice, and ii) enjoy sitting quietly together while I lead us through a mindfulness practice. 

  • Find a way to sit that is comfortable for you but also uplifted and supported. Chair or cushion?—doesn’t matter. Do sit squarely on your sits bones with an erect spine and a natural S-curve in your lumbar region. A straight-backed chair, or kneeling or ball chair, will serve better than a bed or soft sofa. If you have one and like it, a meditation cushion is fine too, of course.

  • Please keep your camera “on” during our meetings, except if you need a bio break, etc. This helps keep you present to the whole group, building our collective sense of what the textbooks call “intersubjective resonance,” and, more importantly, it can help keep you present to yourself and to the present moment, which, after all, is the point of mindfulness. 

  • If it is feasible and affordable for you, consider participating in some form of mindful movement once or twice a week. This could be yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, or any form of gentle stretching or exercising you like, as long as you hold the intention to sustain awareness of your breathing and your body while doing it. 

  • If you choose, read good books about mindfulness and/or watch documentaries and other resources about mindfulness online.

  • You are welcome to invite others to sit in on our meetings, as long as that’s not distracting, whether they join you on screen or sit to the side, whether they come once or attend every meeting—all are welcome.