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3 San Diego Authors Share How Mindfulness Changed Their Life

Meet Deborah Salazar Shapiro, John Allcock, and Julie Potiker


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Deborah Salazar Shapiro

Carmel Valley psychotherapist and mindfulness meditation teacher at hospitals, community centers, military bases, schools, and prisons

The Book: The Magical Mindful Day

The Idea Behind It: “The book was born out of my personal experiences,” Shapiro says, “both as a child growing up during the civil war in El Salvador and as a mother raising two children in a time of tremendous environmental changes and challenges.” The book, which was published in April, aims to teach readers ages 4 to 8 to be aware of themselves, others, and the environment.

What Kids Can Learn from Mindfulness: “For children, mindfulness means paying attention to what’s going on around you and also being aware of what’s going on inside of you each moment, and being okay with it. A method called ‘unified mindfulness’ uses this definition of equanimity: ‘The ability to allow sensory experience to come and go without push and pull.’ That means emotional regulation. When you’re sad, you don’t get pulled by the sadness. You observe, Oh, I have these feelings of sadness. And you don’t push it—you don’t say, I don’t want to feel sad. I teach children that it’s okay to feel everything. We need to feel things; observe them and they will pass.”

Off the Page: The Magical Mindful Day includes a song, “Be Aware.” (Download it for free on the book’s website.) Sample lyrics: “Breathe in, breathe out / Feel it in your heart / Breathe the air we all share / Love is everywhere.”

Future Project: In early 2019, Shapiro is launching The Compassion Room, a free video meeting the first Sunday of every month. It’s not a support group; it’s for people to connect and learn mindfulness and compassion exercises. “We cannot heal in solitude,” she says. She also plans to take it on the road to schools, hospitals, prisons, events, the beach, and more. 

 

John Allcock

Trial lawyer at DLA Piper and director of mindfulness at Sea Change Preparatory, a private school in Del Mar

The Book: Allcock began meditating while he was going through a divorce over 15 years ago. He attended silent retreats at places like Spirit Rock in Northern California and Plum Village in southwest France, founded by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. During this period, Allcock wrote hundreds of emails to his three daughters, which they forwarded to their friends. That was the basis of his book for parents and children, Forty Things I Wish I’d Told My Kids, published last March. “It struck me like a two-by-four when I learned that your mind is capable of doing something other than thinking. How is it possible that I went to a really good high school, Boston College, and Harvard Law School, and got to the age of 45 and didn’t realize that there was an awareness capability that’s independent of thinking and actually very useful?”

Mindfulness in Schools: John and his wife, Cheryl, were certified by the Mindful Schools Project (an educator training organization based in Emeryville), and brought mindfulness to the curriculum at Arch Academy, a school that Cheryl operated in Clairemont for challenged children. In August 2017, the school moved to Del Mar, was renamed Sea Change Preparatory, and opened to all kids who would benefit from a smaller, more collaborative environment.

The students meet at school at 7 a.m. and walk five minutes to the park at 15th Street three mornings a week. They do a mindful meditation circle for a half hour. “You see increased focus and increased self-regulation, and therefore self-care and ability to get along with others. We do mostly breath-oriented techniques.” After the meditation, “we take the mindfulness and move it into the water.” The students, many of whom have never swum before, jump in the ocean with a swim coach and swim for about an hour.

About that Swimming: “It isn’t really about the swimming. It’s about teaching them they can do things no one thinks they could, including themselves and, in most instances, their parents.” This summer, Sea Change students were the first people ever to relay swim the 21 miles between the Ischia and Santo Stefano islands in Italy, with each child swimming a one-hour leg.

A Few of the Forty Things: “We can’t control what enters our head, but we can control what we do with it once it gets there. Mindfulness is being aware of your thoughts, being able to focus your attention away from those that aren’t helpful to you, and refocusing on thoughts that are.

“The only way we can be happy is to condition ourselves to deal with uncertainty, because uncertainty is all we got. We live in a sea of uncertainty, but we already know how to swim.” 

 

Julie Potiker

La Jolla resident and former attorney who launched mindfulmethodsforlife.com and founded the Balanced Mind Meditation Center, a nonreligious drop-in studio, at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in the UTC area

Her Discovery: Several years ago, Potiker thought she had a brain tumor. “The wrong words would come out of my mouth all the time. I would say, ‘I want a capatino’ instead of ‘cappuccino.’” She says that after a series of tests, a neurologist told her, “‘You’ve got three kids with ADHD, your mom has health issues, you’re president of this, that, and the other. You don’t have a brain tumor. You’ve got too much stress on your brain. Have you ever heard of mindfulness-based stress reduction or Jon Kabat-Zinn?’”

Potiker fell in love with MBSR after taking classes in it at UCSD’s Center for Mindfulness. She went on to train in mindful self compassion teacher training, positive neuroplasticity with clinical psychiatrist Rick Hanson, and more. Because she blends these practices with those of other prominent speakers, like Tara Brach and Brené Brown, she founded her own brand, Mindful Methods for Life.

The Book in a Nutshell: Life Falls Apart, but You Don’t Have To: Mindful Methods for Staying Calm in the Midst of Chaos was published in January. “We all could live with less suffering and more ease if we could learn how to pause.”

What About People Who Already Feel Well? “This is the time to do it, because it takes practice. That way you’ll have it when you need it—and you’re going to need it, because being human involves suffering.”

Why Write a Book? “It was cathartic and I can’t reach as many people teaching a class on the ground as I can getting this information out into the universe in a book.” She calls it a “mindful memoir. It’s a new genre.” The book addresses every kind of human suffering and is filled with stories, tools, and techniques.

Coming Up: The North County cultural nonprofit A Ship in the Woods will present Grey Matter (January 12, 2019), an afternoon mindfulness retreat in Escondido followed by a public art/music event in the evening, with dinner and guest speakers including Potiker. The focus will be overcoming stress, challenges, and disconnection. 

How Potiker Pauses

 

How to Calm Down Instantly

Breathe in for four, hold for five, out for six. If you breathe out longer than you breathe in, it lowers your blood pressure and your heart rate.

 

How to Wait in Line

“When I’m in line at Vons or Whole Foods, I say loving kindness phrases to the people in front of me and to the cashier in my head. I’m saying, ‘May you be safe, may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you live with ease.’ I look at the back or side of their head and say these phrases. It makes my waiting super pleasant and loving. When I’m in the security line at the airport, I do it the entire time. It keeps me loving, not just present. It’s automatic for me, but eight years ago, it was a practice.”

 

How to Use a Mantra

“When I teach people meditation I don’t have them just count their breath or practice open awareness, because it’s annoying noticing ‘I need to go to CVS; I forgot to do this or that.’ Try ‘In with peace, out with ease,’” from Thich Nhat Hanh. “I do that one a lot because it quiets the chatter when you add a word or phrase.”

 

How to Make Time for Meditation

“Do it in the pickup line at school, or show up at a doctor’s appointment early. If you have little kids and they’re not in the car, pull into the driveway and put on a five-minute guided meditation before you walk in the door to meet your family. You show up in a much calmer, less reactive way and you’re more present. You leave whatever you were thinking about 10 minutes prior and walk in the door being the best mom.”

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